What is the most popular tactical apparel brand in Iraq?

Vladimir Onokoy
by Vladimir Onokoy

I first heard the term “tacticool” somewhere around 2012. At that time, a friend of mine and I were training with US ex-special operations instructors in South-East Asia, and instructors loved to make fun of Hong-Kong airsofters, who showed up to a basic shooting class in full combat loadout.

The temperature on the range was usually around 110 degrees, and very soon, bits and pieces of tactical gear were starting to end up on the floor under the covered area in the back of the range. In just a couple of hours, you could literally bury yourself in this pile of pouches, warbelts, plate carries and backpacks that shooters decided to ditch.

There is nothing wrong about loving tactical gear (guilty myself), but very often, some equipment does not serve any real purpose except for looking cool. Full kit is not necessary to learn marksmanship fundamentals.

All over the world, you would hear people from gun community joking about “posers,” “mall ninjas,” “couch commandos” and stuff like that. However, all those jokes and the whole obsession with tactical gear only exists in a relatively small world of military/LE people, airsofters, and some gun guys, and does not affect the general population.

But not in Iraq. These days, when you come to Iraq, it looks like at least 50% of Iraqi male population is in some security job, with either government or in the private sector. Сonsequently, tactical gear obsession is spreading around the Iraqi nation.

Typical Iraqi security team. Picture courtesy of Sabah Al Rafidin Co: http://sabahalrafidinco.com/team.html

Shops with tactical gear are literally everywhere, and if you do not know the history and culture of Iraq, you might think that a “5.11 tuxedo” is a part of traditional Iraqi clothing, because these days it is clearly more popular than dishdasha (also called galabeya in other dialects of Arabic).

Classic 5.11 tuxedo on the left and actual Iraqi traditional clothing on the right side

Even at the airport in Basra, instead of “Pinkberry” and an airport bookstore, there is an in-store shop with 5.11 clothing.

Basra airport (departures), 5.11 in-store shop

The odd thing about it is that this shop is located in the departures, right before the gates.

Probably the idea is that you can buy all the cool tactical clothing right before you leave, and change before boarding, so you would be able to tell everyone at home that you were a badass high-speed, low drag security contractor.

But clearly, Iraqis do not get their tactical clothing from this expensive shop at the airport. There are plenty of shops everywhere in the big cities, with the most notable “tactical clothing street” in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil.

In Erbil, you can always find the latest tactical apparel. Just do not look up those models on official 5.11 website.
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I am a big fan of 5.11 myself, years ago, I used to be a brand ambassador for 5.11 in Russia, and it is very popular there. But in Iraq, 5.11 is more than just a brand; it is truly a lifestyle. Typically, when it comes to tactical clothing market, companies just manufacture cheap knock-offs under their own brand, but there, in Iraq 5.11 logo is just too valuable.

That is why even the most ridiculous designs will be branded as 5.11.

While 5.11, over the last ten years, was striving to make its clothing to look LESS tactical with brand logos barely visible, in the Iraqi tactical market they were not concerned with this.

Despite the fact that those products are very obviously fake, manufacturers are still trying to copy fancy tags and labels used on original 5.11 products.

In my opinion, that is really a shame. Local manufacturers could have used this chance to establish their own brands since they are coming up with original designs and often not making direct copies of 5.11 products. Instead, they still put 5.11 logo on their clothing thinking that it will boost the sales.

There is only one company that does not put 5.11 logo on their clothing (sort of) and established the presence on both Iraqi and international markets.

The name is… you guessed it – S.11.

Here is a comparison of the tags of original 5.11 and S.11 tactical pants.

The business address they have on their tag is fake, but obviously, very similar to the real address of 5.11 Inc.

To this day, I have no idea why they came up with this ridiculous name – “S.11”. They certainly are not afraid of any lawsuits. I guess the reason is that in Arabic countries, people do not actually use Arabic numerals as we know them.

Comparison of Arabic numerals that we use and Eastern Arabic numerals used in the Middle East.

This is why for some Iraqis, the letter “S” and the numeral “5” might both look foreign and similar to each other, so maybe S.11 brand creators were counting on that.

But many Iraqis, especially those working in the security industry, are very well educated and westernized, and there is no way they will ever fall for it.

Other than a few words, the tag is identical to 5.11 in every way.
Even people behind S.11 brand are so tired of the word "tactical" that they replaced it with a more appropriate term.

Or maybe S.11 CEO’s wife told him that wearing tactical pants on vacation is a bad idea, so he had to change the name of the product to prove her wrong. Who knows…?

But enough about tags, what about the quality of this apparel?

I personally was spared from having firsthand experience with it, but my friends who were issued this clothing had nothing but complaints.

When you think about the US influence on Iraq, among other things, Americans certainly shaped the perception of “what being cool looks like.” That is why brands like S.11 that make you look cool on the cheap will not be out of business any time soon.

P.S. If you want to know more, check out this great article from “Stars and Stripes”: https://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/popular-aafes-gear-finds-enthusiastic-following-on-iraq-s-front-lines-1.450949

Vladimir Onokoy
Vladimir Onokoy

Vladimir Onokoy is a small arms subject matter expert and firearms instructor. Over the years he worked in 20 different countries as a security contractor, armorer, firearms industry sales representative, product manager, and consultant. His articles were published in the Recoil magazine, Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defence Journal, and Silah Report. He also contributed chapters to books from the "Vickers Guide: Kalashnikov" series. Email: machaksilver at gmail dot com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Vladimir-Onokoy-articles-and-videos-about-guns-and-other-unpopular-stuff-107273143980300/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vladonokoy/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/machaksilver

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4 of 46 comments
  • Peter Peter on Jun 14, 2018

    Why do you post pictures of actual security teams in an article about posers? It's not like they don't need plate carriers, chest webbing or clean uniforms. And the few front grips on their AK 's aren't that outrageous.

    • Vladimir Onokoy Vladimir Onokoy on Jun 14, 2018

      @Peter I have nothing against those guys. Picture was posted to show how a typical security team in Iraq looks like and how prevalent is "5.11 tuxedo" look.

  • Bill Howell Bill Howell on Jun 16, 2018

    I wore only 2 types of pants when I was a contractor. ACUs in the field and 5.11s when at the flagpole. Contracting companies were deathly afraid that they would be grouped into the “Blackwater” stigma and would loose contracts. So they made us wear 5.11s and had policies that said we would wear them everywhere, even if you were the only guy coming out of the ASV without camo on (making you look like a high value target).

    While the case may be that Iraqis in the large cities ware 5.11 style clothing it is not the norm where I was at. Iraqis identifying themselves as those that work with coalition forces tend to get killed much faster than than those who do not. Most of our local national contractors wore nothing that would let anyone know they had anything to do with the infidels.

    • Vladimir Onokoy Vladimir Onokoy on Jun 16, 2018

      @Bill Howell Good story!
      But, obviosly, things have changed since. Now the presence of coalition forces is barely visible, and wearing of "tactical" clothing identifies one as a member of Iraqi security forces or private security company, both variants being more or less socially exceptable.