From Major Dave Cloft, USAR, serving in Iraq.
One of the first things to catch my attention upon arriving in Iraq was a case containing two rifles prominently displayed at the entrance of the Al Faw Palace. Being a competitive shooter and member of the “gun culture” back in the US I wanted to know more about these rifle and why they were on display. Unfortunately only one had a placard with limited information. Daily as I walked past them I took a greater interest. These rifles were in deplorable condition upon our arrival, and continued to be neglected for the duration of our “Iraq Vacation.” What they needed was a little TLC, a solid cleaning and some good preventative maintenance.
After three months the pain became too great and I couldn’t take it anymore. It took two days, but I successfully acquired “official” permission to remove these rifles from their display case and give them a thorough cleaning. Without permission my fear was that someone would assume I was trying to steal them as a war trophy and I’d be punished under General Order Number One, the same rule that prohibits of from drinking, gambling and having any fun while in Iraq. However, I gained approval faster than anticipated, and in fact I was thanked for saving the HQ Commandant cell some work. The day of the cleaning appropriately coincided with Valentine’s Day, 14FEB11.
I knew the older rifle looked like a 1898 Mauser and the more modern rifle resembled a German G3. Upon closer inspection they were in much worse condition that I had ever anticipated. After wiping off a layer of Iraqi dust I realized the last owner of these rifles didn’t clean them prior storage, or providing them as a gift and putting them on display – the carbon fouling was still in the bore! To make this problem worse older ammo used corrosive primers and it was evident that these caustic chemicals had not been kind to the barrels. Externally the metal parts were mostly rusted and pitted.
While I didn’t tell anyone until I was finished, I had never disassembled a German G3, or a copy of it, before in my life. Proving once again if you enter a situation with confidence, no one will question you. I also knew that military rifles are normally designed for use by the lowest common denominator, and that since I had been shooting rifles since age 4, I felt I might be able to figure it out. I took a quiet sense of achievement when I was able to reassemble the faux-German G3 and it functioned flawlessly. After about two hours of thoroughly enjoying myself and getting in some photo opportunities, I decided to do a little research on the origin of these mysterious display rifles.
Since the “Internet Nazis” keep us from visiting most firearm related websites from my “Gov-mint” computer in my office, I couldn’t do any quality research until I returned to my trailer where I live here in Iraq. After a quick email back to the buddy in the US who knows more than I do about historic firearms, he suggested I research “Persian Mausers” and this was my jumping off place for my search.
What I learned is that the first rifle was indeed a Persian Mauser, and it has a unique story, most likely unknown to anyone currently working in Al Faw Palace. These rifles were manufactured under contract from BRNO in Czechoslovakia for the Shaw of Iran from 1933 to 1937. The fit, finish and overall craftsmanship of this rifle was impressive. Even with neglect the action is smooth as a hot knife into butter. The Persian Mausers were actually regarded as having some of the best craftsmanship of the Mauser family. From the 1930’s and in some areas still today this rifle is a standard weapon of the Iranian Army and is acclaimed for its accuracy, it even appears in some Iranian National folk songs. I realized that this rifle may have been in the Al Faw Palace prior to the US invasion since the Al Faw Palace was built to honor the sacrifice of the Iraqi Soldiers in defeating the Iranians. A little piece of history as to why the Al Faw Palace is here (from Global Security). In 1986 during the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq suffered a major loss in the southern region. Iran had launched a successful surprise amphibious assault and captured the Iraqi oil port of Al Faw. The occupation of Al Faw, a logistical feat, involved 30,000 regular Iranian soldiers who rapidly entrenched themselves. Saddam Hussein vowed to eliminate the bridgehead “at all costs,” and in April 1988 the Iraqis succeeded in regaining the Al Faw peninsula. Perhaps this rifle was an Iranian War Trophy taken from the battle of Al Faw, and the namesake of the Palace where we currently work.
What I call the faux-German G3 also impressed me. A 1950’s design which originated about the same time as our US M16 variant. This rifle was also built in Czechoslovakia by BRNO (they must have had a great relationship with the Shaw of Iran). While in very rough shape the design was simple, but intelligent. The placard that accompanied this rifle in the display case showed it was a gift to GEN Petraeus. However, since it’s still here, and his is not, he must have forgotten his gift in Iraq when he moved on to Afghanistan. The real reason the rifle is still here is that if GEN Petraeus had landed in the US with this rifle in his possession he’d become an instant felon. The US prohibits ownership of any fully automatic firearms that were not in the US prior to 1986. The market value for this faux-German G3 is upwards of $15K, providing that it could be legally owned, as a Class III firearm, and the owner would subject himself to be finger printed, pass an FBI background check, obtain permission from his local law enforcement officer, and pay a $200 Federal Tax. It’s obvious it was much easier to abandon a rifle in such poor condition in Iraq.
The fate of these two firearms is unknown, most likely they will be destroyed prior to the US departure at the end of 2011, or shipped to a warehouse somewhere where they may never see the light of day again for centuries. It will be a sad day, but unfortunately the Army does not have an adoption program, or I’d be the first to apply. Too bad these rifles cannot speak and tell us of their history, I’d love to know where they’ve been and what they’ve experienced.