Threat Analysis: IS Marksmen in Kirkuk

    The so-called Islamic State has released a video recently in a series of in-depth views of marksmen taking shots at Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers in the vicinity of Kirkuk province in Iraq. The video is titled Arrows of the Monotheists and is essentially a propaganda and recruiting effort from the Islamic State. The majority is footage from a spotter with a camera focused on a particular target while a marksman nearby fires a well-aimed shot. Then it cuts to various scenes showing the shooters either moving into position or training to get up online. A number of the shots have been cut to show a shooter taking a shot from a staged position in the rear, to the actual shot footage, thus appearing like one take of the action. These sorts of videos first became popular in OIF with the “Juba Sniper” videos that circulated among the Iraqi insurgency.

    An important point that must be taken into consideration is that the video is only showing the shots that made contact with Kurdish fighters and isn’t indicative of every shot fired by IS marksmen at the Kurds. Thus, we are only looking at a small sample of IS long range precision rifle capabilities.

    The weapons used appear to be a 5.56x45mm NATO M16A2, 7.62x54R SVD derivative, and what is possibly a commercial Mauser in 7.92x57mm. All rifles have either proprietary optics (SVD) or commercial off the shelf choices (modified contraption on Mauser, Picatinny rails on M16A2). The optic on the Mauser might have a tritium or otherwise glowing reticle on it due to a radioactive emblem on the side. The SVD might have limited starlight gathering abilities as many Russian SVD scopes do but otherwise the IS marksmen are limited to daylight shooting.

    The overwhelming majority of the shots appear to be taken from at least 400 meters or so. In some cases closer than 200. At these ranges, all three rifles shouldn’t have any issues with point of impact due to minimal wind resistance, especially with the larger 7.62mm bullets. It also appears that the shooters are intentionally using tracer rounds. A tactical reason for this could be to adjust for follow-on shots, however, this is usually the case with machine guns and not precision rifles. Because the threat from the Kurds looks to be very minimal due to the lack of training, it looks like the actual reason for the tracer usage is for the propaganda video to show viewers the flight of the rounds.

    Apart from the AR15 in use (doesn’t appear to either an A4 due to the lack of sear pin) with a Bushnell Elite 3200, shooters don’t appear to be using any bipods on their SVDs, instead of resting them on mounds of dirt or ground for more stable shots. Again, at the ranges of engagement, the IS marksmen could probably get away with this, especially at 300-100 meters and in. However, going past that range, shots are probably going to be increasingly harder to take due to more issues with stability and finding a proper mound or pack that will work at that range. Another point that we noticed is that the cameraman appears to be offset from the shooter. This indicates a highly coordinated piece because both parties have to be communicating with each other throughout the entire operation.


    Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

    Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at [email protected]