Like most armies in this part of the world, the Peshmerga’s go-to weapon is the AK-47/AKM. Sure, they have the G36 and a few M16/M4s floating around (usually with officers), but the Kalashnikov is the name of the game. What makes it fascinating is the number of variants and origins that you can find in the ranks.

Everything from Warsaw Pact-era fixed stocks, under-folders, side-folders, and wire stocks can be found, to include a variety of barrel lengths. Probably the most readily available is the standard-length barrel with an under-folder stock, because everyone and their mother seems to own one.

Pick a country that produces an AK variant and you can find one of its products here in Kurdistan. Chinese models are fairly common and usually very new (I’m talking straight out of the crate, with packing grease still on it, new) which makes one wonder if China is doing a steady amount of business with the Kurds. The Type 56, China’s AK, comes in two configurations: fixed stock and under-folder. It’s equipped with cheap brown plastic furniture, and usually all its components are locked up tight tolerance-wise. They shoot well enough, but are far from perfection—they’re still half-assed mass-produced knock-offs of the real thing. Generally, the magazine-well tolerances are too tight and must be modified before proper combat employment. Adjusting the front sight post when zeroing can be an absolute nightmare.

Hungarian AKs are the second most common, and are a good bang for the buck. Crude but rugged craftsmanship gives them a long life, but accuracy can vary from rifle to rifle. It seems like furniture constantly needs to be adjusted or tightened down on these.

Yugos are good, but also vary from rifle to rifle and can be old enough to have fought my grandfather. If it’s a Yugo rifle around here, it’s mostly likely a member of the RPK family, which I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with (mine was a Yugo). As for their craftsmanship, the rifles are excellent, and for the most part reliable. The Yugo AK features a unique takedown pin on the dust cover which I find to be a fascinating feature. They go bang when you pull the trigger and hit what you aim at. Enough said.

The German AK is an ultra-rare oddity and is easy to recognize given its fire selector marked “D” and “E”. Reliable and precise, these are often overlooked by Kurdish fighters as anything of significance largely due to ignorance. I’ve only encountered two so far and both were impressive.

Of course, we have to consider the Russian-made rifles. These gems are prized highly among Kurds, and for good reason. They shoot well, are as reliable as a Toyota Hilux, and are smoother than butter. Granted, they usually aren’t new rifles, but range from early ’60s to late ’90s manufacture. I got my hands on a brand new one stamped 1960 the other day. Not sure how it made it that long here without getting used. Greatest thing I’ve ever fired in-country. I was stunned at its performance. A 4″ group out of an AK platform at 200m is more weapon quality than I would ever expect from a rifle here.

Many of the rifles you find in the ranks are weathered and dated, but still have life in them. Obviously the average Pesh soldier has to make do, but it doesn’t hurt to incorporate a little ingenuity. Alterations are made via replacement parts or substitute components, and the unit armorer or local smith will tackle the more complex dilemmas when a rifle needs repairs made. There isn’t really such a thing as “service life” here in Kurdistan—if the weapon goes bang when you pull the trigger, it’s good to go.