Tuesday 26 May 2015

Iranian delivered North Korean Type-73 machine guns join the fight against Islamic State in Iraq

By Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer

Iraq's war on the Islamic State has seen a myriad of both light and heavy weaponry from all sources around the world in use with the numerous groups pitting it out against the Islamic State in Iraq. From Iranian tanks and multiple rocket launchers to World War II-era howitzers, the war in Iraq has so far provided it all.

As the war is now about to enter it's second year, the need for more weapons has everything but diminished, and all involved parties continue to scrounge the list of regional and international supporters that will fuel the war for years to come. Weaponry once presumed to have found its final resting place is dug up, dusted off and once more put to use.

One of these weapons is the North Korean Type-73 general-purpose machine gun (GPMG), an extremely rare piece of equipment never thought to have been produced for export in any significant quantities. While North Korean designed and produced weaponry had a great impact on Iran's wars in the past and present, these machine guns were not thought to have survived the turbulent 1980s. Numerous examples now showing up with Shiite militias operating under the Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella organisation is thus highly suprising.

Indeed, North Korean influence on the equipment of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army has in the past been substantial, but had yet to make a significant appearance in the Iraqi theatre, especially when put into perspective with the masses of other foreign equipment that roam the Iraqi battlegrounds.

The early 1980s saw the height of military cooperation between Pyongyang and Tehran. During this time, the DPRK delivered anything from ballistic missiles and artillery to small arms to aid Iran in its fight against neighbouring Iraq. Cooperation in later years mainly focused on the transfer of technology from the DPRK to Iran, enabling Iran to produce various types of ballistic missiles, missile boats and submarines originally of North Korean design.

However, numerous North Korean Bulsae-2 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) have recently popped up in the Gaza Strip with the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas and the al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades. The Bulsae-2, an indigenous variant of the 9K111 Fagot, is believed to have been delivered to the Gaza Strip by Iran through an elaborate network of smugglers and backdoor channels ranging from Sudan to the Gaza Strip. More on the presence of North Korean Bulsae-2 ATGMs with Hamas can be read here.

The Type-73, seen with Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war in the image above, is largely based on the Soviet PK light machine gun, but has been fitted with a very different feeding system capable of accepting both box and stick magazines, chambered for the 7.62x54R cartridge. While a large number were produced for the Korean People's Army, where it still sees use today, the machine gun's only documented export success is Iran.

With North Korean designed weaponry continuing to appear in various conflicts throughout the world, it is clear that even in its extremely isolated state of today the DPRK's ability exert influence on conflicts abroad is substantial.


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