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Iraq Is Slowly Reviving An Old Artillery Factory

June 6, 2021
Via Iraqi MoD.

A visit by the Iraqi defense minister to a state-owned factory last week revealed the progress being made in reviving Baathist-era institutions that may still serve the current government. A video clip released in late May of Defense Minister Juma Inad and his entourage touring the Al Shuhada Factory, which used to mass-produce ammunition and even missile parts in the 1980s, showed manufacturing operations being revived for assembling propane tanks. The steel containers remain essential in kitchens where centralized gas or electric stoves are unavailable. However, the minister’s publicized tour of the factory grounds also showed a collection of refurbished towed howitzers.

The D-30 howitzers at the Al Shuhada Factory are refurbished pieces along with several older M-46 howitzers. (The observant reader will also notice the 107mm rocket tubes at the corner of the thumbnail photo above.) The Iraqi Army fielded hundreds of the D-30 and M-46 as it fought Iran from 1980 until 1988 and augmented this collection with 155mm towed howitzers imported from Canada and South Africa–these are the GHN-45 and G-5‘s once considered the most lethal and sophisticated artillery pieces ever designed. The Soviet vintage D-30 howitzer, which is chambered for 122mm ammunition, is recognizable for a towing hook attached underneath its muzzle brake and the unique folding tripod configuration of its trails. When prepared to fire the D-30’s three trails are spread over the ground in a “Y” pattern, therefore acting to stabilize the howitzer’s recoil, and the road wheels are raised above the trails.

The standard 122mm high explosive or HE ammunition for the D-30 is able to hit targets at a maximum range of 15 kilometers. Upgraded 122mm ammunition for the D-30 can go a little farther and reach 17.5 km instead. The Iraqi Army fielded hundreds of D-30’s supplied by Egypt and the Soviet Union throughout the Iran-Iraq War fought from 1980 until 1988. When Iraqi divisions were pushed out of Iranian territory by 1982 the scramble to replace battlefield losses drove Baghdad’s excessive spending on imports while a state-owned military-industrial sector was taking shape. When the Soviets couldn’t fulfill enough of Iraq’s military needs China became the next best option; the 30 year old document Global Arms Exports To Iraq, 1960-1990 by Rachel Schmidt (available as a free download) is still an accessible source for analyzing Iraq’s wartime economic policies.

Based on data supplied by the think tank SIPRI Global Arms Exports To Iraq, 1960-1990 notes several hundred Type 59-1 towed howitzers were supplied by China in the mid-1980s. The Type 59-1 is a copy of the Soviet M-46 that was deemed the most effective artillery piece in the Cold War until the 1980s. The 130mm towed howitzers refurbished at the Al Shuhada Factory today look like the original Soviet M-46 and there are no public records accessible at the moment to indicate how many M-46’s and Type 59-1’s the Iraqi Army possessed before President Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003. Prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom it was estimated the Iraqi Army operated 1,900 towed artillery pieces of all calibers and 2,000+ mortars. When Cold War-era think tanks assessed the Iraqi Army in 1988, the year its war against Iran ended, the estimate for towed artillery pieces stood at 2,500-these encompassed 122mm, 130mm, 152mm, and 155mm howitzers.

The cumulative material losses from Operation Desert Storm followed by a decade of sanctions and then the Baathist regime’s downfall are so poorly recorded one wonders how much leftover inventory the Iraqi armed forces have salvaged and stored despite its problems. The long war to destroy ISIS (2014-2019) in northern Iraq exacted its own toll and the battered army still had US-supplied M198 howitzers and Soviet vintage 152mm D-20 howitzers for indirect fires. Now if the Al Shuhada Factory is any indicator there are at least dozens of large caliber armaments that can be made functional for the army’s use. This was apparent at a small indoor exhibition organized by a state-owned mechanical engineering facility in April where thousands of refurbished infantry weapons, including 60mm, 82mm, and 120mm mortars, were presented to the army brass. The event also showed what looked like newly assembled AK-47 and AKM rifles, which can be proof once dormant state-owned weapon factories are active once more.

An interesting detail about the Al Shuhada Factory is its immense floor area equipped with functioning CNC machines and manual lathes imported from various European suppliers. This means the factory is capable of mass-producing the small high strength parts necessary for assembling complete weapon systems. So much Iraqi military equipment is unaccounted to this day including more than a thousand 122mm Grad rocket launchers from Egypt and the Soviet Union and those 155mm towed howitzer ordered from Canada and South Africa, only a small portion of which were seized by the US military. What the Iraqi government plans on doing with these defunct weapons is worth keeping an eye on.

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