December 27, 2021
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2004 during our war with Iraq and was intended to provide useful information on Iraq’s 7.62x54mmR Al Kadesih sniper rifle.
While the United States Army has been agonizingly slow to recognize the utility of a true sharpshooter's rifle, such was not the case in Eastern Europe. Russia developed their SVD, Yugoslavia the M76, and Romanian the PSL. All three being fairly light self-loading optically sighted rifles intended to be issued at the platoon level. Russia's influence stretches far beyond Eastern Europe though, and Iraq is just one of many countries to follow their lead. Large quantities of both Russian built SVD's as well as Romanian built PSL sniper rifles were captured during the liberation of Iraq. In addition, large quantities of a domestically produced Iraqi sharpshooter's rifle were also captured.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to check the performance of one of these interesting Iraqi rifles. Called the Al Kadesih, it is an Iraqi built self-loading sharpshooter's rifle, numbers of which are currently being fielded against US forces. As American troops are currently facing this rifle in combat I wanted to provide as much useful data on this rifle, and its performance, as possible.
At first glance the Al Kadesih simply appears to be a standard early model laminated stock Russian SVD sniper rifle. Yet while it mimics the appearance of an SVD rather closely, it is neither Russian nor a Dragunov. And while this rifle's designers obviously based their work upon Evgeniy Fedorovich Dragunov's rifle, the Al Kadesih possesses its own unique personality.
First examining it one notes the outward appearance of this rifle is typical Eastern European Combloc, for the most part. Long and thin, it's light in the hands and easy to carry. Shouldering it though reveals a length of pull which is uncomfortably short for most average sized Americans. Peering through the compact 4x Yugoslavian built military scope reveals a lack of cheekweld as well. Dropping your face down slightly on the stock allows you to quickly access the rifle's back-up iron sights. Controls are typical Kalashnikov/Dragunov, and agriculturally simple. A stubby steel magazine holds 10 rounds of hard-hitting 7.62x54mmR. Pressed into the magazine is a palm tree, the only outward indication (outside of the weapon's markings) that this is not a European rifle. Hanging from the left side of the rifle is a simple carrying strap.
Taking a closer look at the rifle reveals that, unlike a SVD or Yugoslavian M76 sniper rifle, the Al Kadesih is built on a 1.5mm thick stamped sheet metal receiver. This sports a heavy, reinforced trunnion, similar in concept to both an RPK and Romanian PSL sniper rifle. While a milled receiver machined from a heavy drop forging is more 'traditional', it's also much more labor intensive and expensive to manufacture. Due to this the Romanians employ a stamped sheet metal receiver on their PSL, with acceptable results. On the plus side, a stamped sheet metal receiver is not only cheaper and easier to fabricate, but it's also lighter and cools quicker. Examining it, one notes that dimensionally the Al Kadesih's receiver is roughly similar in dimension to a Russian SVD.
A close examination also reveals a receiver extension, similar conceptually to a Romanian PSL, riveted and spot welded to the rear of the receiver. This is where the buttstock and topcover (with its attached recoil spring assembly) attaches. Riding on opposed rails inside the receiver is a bolt carrier assembly outwardly akin to that of an SVD. Upon closer examination though one notes the three-lug rotating bolt has much more in common with a Yugoslavian M76 or Romanian PSL and rotates opposite that of an SVD. Kalashnikov, rather than Dragunov, inspired, it features an extractor noticeably larger than on an SVD. Also of interest is how the tail of the bolt is smaller in diameter and sports three angled flanges. These are designed to self-clean the channel the bolt rides in making the weapon more tolerant to sandy conditions. An extension on the left rail of the receiver acts as a simple, but reliable, ejector.
Unlike the Kalashnikov inspired PSL, the Al Kadesih's receiver lacks a 'floor'. In this manner it's identical to an SVD. Approximately 5.5 inches from the front of the receiver is a cross support. This is a machined piece which is riveted and spot welded to the receiver. Located inside this unit is the weapon's spring-loaded bolt hold-open device. This is also the front attaching point for the drop out trigger mechanism. A virtual copy of the SVD's, the trigger mechanism utilizes braided wire main and trigger springs. The trigger unit incorporates a stamped steel trigger guard spot welded to the unit as well as a paddle magazine release at the unit's front. While the Al Kadesih's trigger unit looks virtually identical to an SVD's, they do not interchange. This is due to the Al Kadesih's being slightly wider due to the thinner stamped metal receiver.
Mated to the front of the receiver is a fairly light 24-inch barrel. This is pressed into the barrel extension and then pinned in place with one cross pin. The barrel is not chrome lined and features 4-groove rifling with a 1–10 inch RH twist. Dimensionally the barrel is .968-inch in diameter at the chamber. This tapers to .708-inch and it runs this diameter to the rear of the handguard flange. It then steps down to .667-inch to the rear of the gas block, and steps down again to .642-inch in front of the gas block. It runs this diameter to the rear of the front sight assembly. As a comparison a Romanian PSL's barrel is approximately .662-inch to the rear of the gas block and .615-inch in front of the gas block. It then tapers down to .580-inch at the rear of the front sight base. So the Al Kadesih's barrel profile is noticeably heavier than a PSL's.
Cross-pinned to the barrel is a front sight housing, with a bayonet lug, similar to a Russian Kalashnikov. This houses a typical AK type front sight. This unit is adjustable for windage by drifting it in the required direction. It's also adjustable for elevation by screwing it up or down to correct Point of Impact. The weapon's muzzle is threaded (left hand) and a 3.75 inch long M76 type flash suppressor is affixed. This unit features 5 slots for dispersing muzzle flash. Readily removable, it would be possible to replace it with a sound suppressor. Although I do not know if the Iraqi's had a suitable sound suppresser in inventory for this weapons system, I have seen pictures of suppressed M76's deployed during the fighting in the Balkans. As an aside, any standard Kalashnikov bayonet may be mounted.
The weapon is gas-operated via a short-stroke piston in a manner identical to an SVD. However, unlike an SVD the gas system is not adjustable. Rather it is fixed, with a gas tube similar (if not identical) to that of an Izhmash Tiger sporting rifle. Gas system components (gas block, piston, piston spring, and gas tappet) appear almost identical to Russian SVD components. However, comparing the piston to a Russian and Chinese SVD piston revealed the Al Kadesih's unit to be slightly shorter and smaller in diameter. So the pistons are not interchangeable. The gas tappets on the other hand do appear to be interchangeable. The gas block is held on via two cross pins and it locks the forward sling attachment point in place against a step in the barrel. Gas system takedown is also performed in the same manner as for an SVD. In this regard the rifle is a blatant copy of the SVD.
Furniture consists of a laminated thumbhole stock very similar in profile to an SVD's stock. Placing an SVD's stock next to it reveals the unit on the Al Kadesih is a close, but not an identical copy. In addition, unlike an SVD, the Iraqi rifle sports a black rubber buttpad. Length of pull is 12.3 inches and, unlike an SVD, no detachable cheekpiece is fitted. It should also be noted that an SVD cheekpiece will not fit, as the Iraqi stock is wider. The rear sling attachment point consists of a simple pin screwed in from the top of the stock.
The split fore-end consists of two wooden halves with four oval ventilation slots on each side and one on the bottom. Unlike an SVD, these are flat on the bottom facilitating shooting off a rest. The rear sight is also the same as for an SVD consisting of an unprotected rear tangent. This simple unit features a 'U' notch and is calibrated from 100-1,200 meters in 100-meter increments. Typical of such sights the first position is a battle sight setting. Somewhat unusual though is the fact that the battle sight setting is marked '0'.
While iron sights are mounted the rifle is obviously intended to be used primarily with an optical sight. To facilitate this a 6.5-inch-long rail is riveted and spot welded to the left side of the rifle's receiver. This steel rail allows any standard Com-Bloc day or night optic to be readily mounted. To mount an optical sight you merely slide it onto the rail and push it all the way forward until it stops. Then you lock it into place via a swinging throw-lever on the optical sight's base.
To date Al Kadesih rifles have been captured with Yugoslavian 4x scopes (as used on the M76), Romanian 4x 6 degree Type 2 scopes (as used on the PSL), and with no optics at all. These day optics are both growing long in the tooth and are based largely upon the 1960s vintage Russian PSO-1. They feature identical rangefinding reticles, bullet drop compensators calibrated out to 1,000 meters, Tritium illuminated reticles (usually dead), extendible sunshades, and large (6mm) Exit pupils. They are relatively simple and rugged scopes with non-centered reticles best suited for use at ranges less than 600 meters. Due to their relatively small objective lenses and integral sunshades they are less likely to give the rifleman's position away from sun reflecting off the objective.
The weapon is chambered for the standard Russian 7.62x54mmR cartridge. This venerable old round is available in a wide variety of configurations including ball, AP, API, T, Sniper, AP Sniper, and Match loadings. This cartridge is both a virtue and a weakness. The virtue is that it's a hard hitting full-power cartridge available in a wide variety of loadings. AP and API rounds are capable of inflicting considerably more damage to motor vehicles than 7.62x39mm rounds. This cartridge is also much more likely to successfully penetrate body armor, even at extended distances, than a 7.62x39mm round.
The drawback to any sharpshooter or sniper rifle chambered for this caliber is the difficulty in finding sufficiently accurate ammunition. Most available military ammunition in this caliber will have been loaded for use in a PKM machinegun, or like weapon. Accuracy with this grade of ammunition will generally be poor. That said, the Russians have manufactured dedicated Match and Sniper cartridges in this caliber for decades. So, high quality ammunition is indeed available.
Feed is from rugged 10-round detachable box magazines. Fabricated from heavy stamped steel, they feature a palm tree stamped into the side. Of interest is the fact that these magazines fit very tightly into the weapon, and are difficult to lock into place. Russian built SVD magazines not only fit, but locked in place much easier in two specimens examined. I tried to lock an Iraqi magazine into a Russian SVD and it would not go due to the front catch on the magazine being slightly too long. I'm sure some work with a file would correct this, but 'as issued' it would not fit into the Russian weapon.
The Al Kadesih is approximately 47.6 inches long and weighs 9.5 pounds empty with optic and sling. This is slightly shorter than an SVD, which is 48.2 inches long. Weight of the two rifles is approximately the same. Metal work is blued. Fit and finish runs from fairly nice on some parts (flash suppressor, front sight assembly, gas block, trigger mechanism) to rough (rough ground receiver rivets). Overall though, the quality is much nicer than on a Romanian PSL. Markings consist of
strong>MADE IN IRAQ
stamped into the receiver above the magazine well. A 7-digit serial number, 5000690, is stamped into the right side of the receiver at the trunnion. Below this is the date of manufacture, 1989. The receiver also sports Arabic markings for FIRE and SAFE. There are no markings on the butt. Major components are serialized. A Yugoslavian ON-M76 scope featured English markings on the turrets and Arabic script on the scope body just in front of the elevation turret. This scope was serial numbered 8904439 but was not numbered to a rifle. After examining it I surmise the weapon was built with foreign technical assistance (possibly Yugoslavian) in Iraq. It is quite possible this series of rifles was built using some imported parts, such as barrels, gas system components, flash suppressors, front sight assembly, etc. imported from Europe.
While the quirks in the rifle's design are interesting, I found myself most concerned with learning what the Al Kadesih was capable of. So I evaluated the Al Kadesih in the frame of mind of a potential end-user. Basically, I examined this rifle and sought out its strengths and weaknesses. Then I considered how to best deploy the rifle if I was going to carry it into combat. I also considered ammunition selection, and its importance.
Function wise the Al Kadesih is identical to an SVD. Rounds are loaded into the magazine by inserting the base of the cartridge into the magazine in front of the feed lips and pushing down and back. In this regard the Al Kadesih's magazines lack the notched feed lip improvement found in the Romanian PSL magazines. Once the magazine is loaded with up to 10 rounds it is 'rocked' into the weapon similar to an AK or M14. To charge the weapon push the safety all the way down to the Fire position, draw the bolt handle all the way to the rear and release smartly. The weapon is now loaded and ready to fire. To place the weapon on Safe push the safety to its uppermost position.
Basic field stripping of the Al Kadesih is also identical to the SVD. To field strip the weapon clear it and remove the magazine. Then rotate the takedown lever 180 degrees clockwise and remove the topcover. Pull the bolt carrier assembly to the rear and lift out of the receiver. Push the bolt all the way to the rear in the carrier and rotate counterclockwise, then withdraw to the front. Place the safety on SAFE, then rotate counterclockwise 90 degrees and pull straight out of the receiver. This will allow you to rotate the trigger group down and remove it from the weapon.
To strip the weapon's gas system push in on the handguard retaining latch and rotate it 180 degrees. Pull the retainer straight forward and remove the handguards. Pull the gas piston straight back and pivot it to the side allowing you to remove the gas tappet. Put the nose of the piston back into the gas tube. Then compress the piston's spring until it clears the receiver and remove the piston/spring assembly from the weapon. Finally, depress the spring loaded flash suppressor retaining pin and unscrew the flash suppressor clockwise. Reassembly is the reverse.
Zeroing the weapon's iron and optical sights is normally conducted at 100 meters. To accomplish this a target consisting of a white background .5 meter wide by 1 meter high is utilized. On the face of this is placed a black rectangle 20 centimeters wide by 30 centimeters high. To zero the rifle's iron sights adjust the rear sight to the 300-meter setting and take aim at the center bottom of the black rectangle. Fire a minimum of 4 carefully aimed shots from a supported position. Find the center of the group. If it is not 16 cm above the center bottom of the black rectangle adjust the front sight accordingly. As an example, if the group center is low, screw the front sight in. If the group center is to the left, move the front sight to the left.
To zero the optical sight place the BDC to the 300 meter setting and the windage knob to 0. Then, aiming at the center bottom of the black rectangle, fire a minimum of 4 shots. Find the center of the group. It should be 14 centimeters above the center bottom of the black rectangle. If it is not loosen the two screws on the adjustment knobs one or two rotations and make the correction moving only the top of the knob. Re-tighten the screws and re-fire. At least this is how it's done by the book. Personally, I would zero the weapon at either 300 or 400 meters and then check my ammunition against the Bullet Drop Compensator at as many different ranges as possible while keeping careful notes.
To check the Al Kadesih's accuracy I fired a number of loads through it at 100 and 600 yards. I selected ammunition specifically to give readers an appreciation of what this rifle's capabilities were. Loads consisted of Soviet 148-grain steel core FMJ-BT ball manufactured in 1986, Yugoslavian 180-grain ball, Russian 200-grain EXTRA Match ammunition manufactured by Factory 188 in 2003 and sold under the Wolf Performance Ammunition trade name, Czech 174-grain Match ammunition manufactured by Sellier&Bellot in 2003, and Black Hills 174-grain Match. No Iraqi manufactured 7.62x54R was available for testing purposes, but it's generally of poor quality with inconsistent performance. As a clarification, Black Hills does not currently produce any 7.62x54R ammunition. However, they did produce one lot of Match ammunition for military use.
Handling the weapon reveals it to be long, fairly light, with an uncomfortably short stock. To solve the problem of the too short stock I would use a folded towel placed inside the shoulder area of my shirt/jacket to obtain a comfortable length of pull. The rifle's light weight makes it easy to carry, but its long overall length makes it difficult to quickly exit motor vehicles with. It is much less maneuverable than an AKM for instance. The lack of cheek weld is also an issue. I would 100 mph tape an improvised cheek rest onto this weapon in the same manner as an M24. Rather than complaining about the weapon's ergonomic shortcomings I would simply modify/adapt the weapon to get the most out it.
As the carrying strap is attached directly to the barrel it is of little use as a shooting aid. During testing I quickly found that attempting to use the carrying strap as a tight hasty sling had a noticeable effect on Point of Impact, moving it to the left. At ranges of 300 meters and less this would not be an issue, but I would not attempt to use the sling at ranges past this unless I knew the required correction.
The trigger pull on this example is typical two-stage SVD, and while long it broke cleanly at approximately 3 pounds. There is nothing to complain about here, and the Al Kadesih's trigger is better than many domestic bolt action rifles. In addition, the design is such that any skilled armorer can improve the let-off with some simple stoning.
To simulate field conditions I fired groups prone, without the sling, with my left forearm supported by a rest. Four 5-shot groups were recorded in this manner at 100 yards. Results with the 148 and 180-grain ball loads were rather unimpressive, with groups averaging 3-3.5 inches. Recoil though was very light, with shot-to-shot recovery superior to a Romanian PSL. Switching to the Match ammunition cut group size dramatically. These loads averaged 1.25-1.5 inches depending upon barrel temperature. As to be expected, as the barrel heated group size did expand, in this case vertically. However, it should be noted that this rifle would consistently place the first 3 rounds of either 174-grain Match load into a neat triangle measuring between .5 and 1 inch.
Cranking the scope's BDC to 550 meters, I made a minor correction for windage and engaged regulation IPSC targets 600 yards away. Again, this was performed in a real-world position, prone with only my left forearm supported. I fired slow 5-shot groups at this distance. Here I found the 148-grain ball difficult to keep consistently on a man-sized target. The 180-grain Yugoslavian load performed slightly better. The three Match loads though were all easily capable of hitting a man-sized target at 600 yards from a field position. All three grouped into 9-12 inches. From a rest I'm sure these groups could be improved upon. What this tells you though is that if fed quality ammunition this rifle is a very real threat if placed in the hands of someone with advanced marksmanship training. Throughout testing the Al Kadesih was 100% reliable with smooth feeding and energetic ejection.
The optics on the Al Kadesih, whether Yugoslavian, Romanian, or Russian all have similar strengths and weaknesses. They are low powered (4x) and possess a fairly wide FOV (6 degrees) with a fairly bright image. The low magnification and large FOV is a definite plus when attempting to locate targets or when engaging movers. While the magnification is low, it is enough to precisely index a man-sized target at 600 yards. The low magnification makes it very difficult to locate camouflaged targets past 300-400 meters though, and a spotting scope or binocular would be essential. The very coarse (1.8 MOA per click) windage adjustments necessitate using the reticle for minor windage corrections. A carefully kept log would be of utmost importance to making consistent first round hits at long range with this rifle.
Rate of fire of this rifle is very high. I locked a 10 round magazine into it, fired one shot which went low right, made a quick correction using the reticle and made 9 rapid hits at 600 yards. I fired virtually as fast as I could reacquire the target, the rifle simply spitting empties out to 3 O'clock. Reloading (using Russian magazines) is quick and trouble free. Magazines can be carried preloaded with different loads for specific applications. One could be loaded with tracers for marking targets, another with API for engaging light motor vehicles, and the rest with Match ammunition. It should be noted that this rifle's 1–10 inch twist allows it to perform quite well with heavy match bullets. If I could not obtain dedicated Sniper or Match ammunition I would sort through different lots of AP until I found the one that shot the best. Only as a last resort would I utilize ball ammunition. After selecting ammunition I would then attempt to set up my shots with the maximum effective range of the ammunition I was using in mind.
My opinion on this rifle? It's not pretty, but it is well made where it counts. An aging design with simplistic optics it would best be termed 'agriculturally simple'. That said, with a rifle like this it is the man, not the rifle, which is the most important aspect.
Acknowledgments: Much thanks to the nameless souls who made this article possible. You know who you are, thanks for your help. Also thanks to the Iraqi sniper kind enough to donate his no longer needed rifle for use in this article.
Al Kadesih Specifications
- Caliber: 7.62x54R
- Operation: Semi-automatic via short stroke gas with rotating bolt
- Barrel: 24 inches with 4 groove 1–10 inch RH Twist
- Overall Length: 47.6 inches
- Weight: Approximately 9.5 pounds empty with sling and optic
- Front Sight: Protected post adjustable for windage and elevation
- Rear Sight: Unprotected tangent adjustable for elevation from 100-1,200 meters
- Optical sight: 4x Yugoslavian day optic on side mount
- Furniture: Laminated wood butt, wood handguards
- Length of pull: 12.3 inches
- Feed: 10 shot detachable box magazine, interchangeable with Russian SVD
- Effective Range: 600+ yards
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About the Author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.