Snipers in Iraq

Conflict in Iraq: The sniper who shoots on video

Here’s a heart-warming story in the UK’s Independent about Juba, an insurgent marksman in Baghdad who claims to have killed 37 US soldiers.

The sniper team watching the US troops from several hundred yards away is waiting for a clear shot. There is the sniper himself and a spotter who is also operating a video camera. For a few moments they are frustrated by the number of Iraqis milling around, obscuring the soldiers.

“People are around them,” warns the spotter. “Want me to find another place?”

“No, no. Give me a moment,” says the man with the gun. There is a pause and then the crash of a shot and the gunner in the vehicle is hit and slumps forward. “Allahu Akbar – God is Great,” says the sniper.

The info in the article apparently comes from CDs distributed by the insurgents’ PR department.

The “Juba Returns” video says that Islamic Army snipers favour the Tabuk sniper rifle which was produced in Iraq from a Yugoslav design. It is accurate up to 500 to 600 yards and has the advantage of using standard Kalashnikov ammunition that is available all over Iraq. The “commander” in the video says that Islamic Army marksmen rely on a training manual written by a retired US special forces officer called Major John L Plaister entitled Ultimate Sniper. It is freely available from bookshops and was updated “for today’s Global War on Terror”.

Ultimate Sniper is, in fact, a pretty good book. What we’re supposed to do about the fact that enemy snipers can sometimes read is beyond me.

The Tabuk:

It fires the same 7.62×39 ammunition used by the AK-47 and is a poor man’s sniper rifle, being basically a “sniperized” version of Yugoslavia’s M70, itself a clone of the Russian AK-47. The Dragunov SVD and even the Romak PSL, compared here, fire the more powerful 7.62×54. The Tabuk (like the Romak PSL) uses the same action as the AK-47, though the longer barrel (23″ vs 16″) probably helps quite a bit. It seems to Murdoc to be more of a “designated marksman”-type weapon than a true sniper rifle, but it’s the result that counts. In the hands of a skilled shooter, any weapon can be deadly.

Whether or not this “Juba” character is for real, or only a fantasy cooked up by the enemy’s propaganda crew, the insurgents do have a fair number of proficient marksmen. You can bet that we’ve got guys working on getting this bastard and his comrades.

And this is particularly interesting:

America has its own sniper subculture. Its youth are fed on a diet of films that hero worship the warrior engaged in single combat. The store carries dozens of books about the history of sniping, the craft and techniques, how-to guides for sniping and worshipful paeans to sniper heroism.

Maybe it’s just Murdoc, but that paragraph seems to overstate things just a bit.

Anyway, if you want to worship and support snipers, support to good guys at


  1. Yeah, overstated all right. Snipers have historically been frowned upon, to say the least, due to all their reliance on individual competence, skulking about, lying in wait and whatnot. Single combat? Um, I suppose, in the sense that one of the people involved is going to die. I mean, in that sense, stealing up behind someone and smashing the back of his head in with a brick would be single combat. But I think the phrase rather means a face-to-face melee fight with, perhaps, an implication that either man may prevail. Which, um, would be pretty unsniperly.

  2. I wasn’t aware the 7.62×39 had the ballistics for 500-600m shooting. It’s a short, fat round with a relatively poor ballistic coefficient (compared to say, a 6.5mm bullet of the same weight). Granted, 125 years ago, folks used to shoot Palma matches at silly ranges (out to 1000 yards or so) with the .45-70 and it’s elongated blackpowder cousins…but I still think wringing 500-600m out of a 7.62×39 is overstating things a bit. I’d say about 400, tops.

  3. HL: Though I’m certainly no expert, I would have agreed with you. No doubt the longer barrel makes a difference, but 500m has to be really pushing it for effectiveness when it gets there, let alone accuracy.

  4. I agree with you Murdoc. There’s some bench loaders who might, I say might build a compressed load cartridge, in that calibre, which could, in a precision reworked version of the rifle shown, reach close to that performance. I doubt strongly that it’s happening in Iraq. If the character exists and is shooting at those ranges he’s using something else. I’ve done hand loading and some long range shooting, both in the military and since my retirement. The kind of shooting attributed to this guy doesn’t happen with the ak variants and fodder ammo floating around in the middle east. PS.. also such a shooter would have long ago been tagged by counter snipers operations. Aloha Snackbar.

  5. JD: When I wrote the comment above yours, I had thought for a bit about hand-loaded ammunition. Even if a few of the specially-trained foreigners who’ve snuck in bring their own, though, there can’t be much of it. It seems like most of these guys are using crap ammo from crap factories in crap corners of the world. I figure the ‘stars’ like our pal ‘Juba’ here are much more picky about such things, but even then it sure seems like a stretch. I haven’t watched any of these videos, but I doubt any are from 500m. Hell, I can barely SEE 500m.

  6. Steve: The Dragunov and its 7.62×54 is a good weapon, and many have been turning up in Iraq. Same goes for the Romak PSL, which is a basically a sniperized AK-47 chambered for the 7.62×54. The Torbuk, on the other hand, uses the AK-47 action like the PSL but sticks with the 7.62×39 Russian. Probably not a bad weapon to have in a squad of guys with AKs, but certainly not a true ‘sniper’-level weapon. Like I said, though, in the hands of a good shooter it can do the dirty work. And apparently is. If this ‘Juba’ is real, there will someday probably be a movie about how one of our snipers (or even maybe an Iraqi sniper) hunted him and took him out. I’ll plop my $9 down for that show.

  7. Murdoc: Roger. I was referring more to HL’s post. In my career, I’ve encountered some confusion about .30 cal weapons and the different types of calibers. Incidentally, I just clicked on the comments button on the front page so I missed the whole part above in your main post about the Tobruk’s. I probably should have read all the posts a bit closer.

  8. Not trying to turn this into a discussion of ballistics but I dredged my memory some and did a bit of searching. My conclusion.. I’m pretty doubtfull this guy is anything near as good as claimed by the article. Never fired this particulare rifle but I have fired newer SKS’s, which I would deem fairly close. Shorter barrel but more accurate action and I’m pretty sure far higher quality control. I was never impressed with them, even with a scope. Actually hitting close to the aim point, past 200 meters, was a thrill due to it’s rarity. I got curiouse and scanned some of the shooter forums for 7.62×39 shooters and the consensus I got was joy when they had 3′ groups at 100 meters with high grade ammo. These were guys shooting from the bench. This means 6′ at 200, 9′ at 300 etc.. Not saying there’s can’t be some character, as described, who’s killed some of our people. I do strongly doubt the claims made though. Anyone really interested should go to places like the shooter’s forum. You to can become an advocate for the replacement of the .223 with say the 6.8 🙂

  9. Well, Murdoc, if ‘Juba’ is real, there is also the chance that there’ll be a movie about his ‘struggle for freedom’ with a review of him as addition on the DVD, and it might be an Iraqi production then. Or a completely fictional movie with either ending possible; just think of ‘Enemy at the Gates’ – It all depends on who’s winning in the end. 🙂 I for my part wouldn’t dare to predict the end of his career just yet. Greetings! -Rofu