Aziz’s shop is outfitted simply with a work bench, chair and tools. An arsenal of firearms, including old muskets, line the walls. He learned his trade from his father, who openly repaired weapons for hunters, and secretly fixed them for Kurds who resisted Saddam Hussein. Now, with the Peshmerga battling ISIS along a 600-mile front line, Aziz is putting his skills to work repairing weapons for the fight against the Islamist terror group.
In a region awash with weapons of all makes, models and vintages, Aziz must be able to fix anything that comes his way. ISIS uses mostly Russian weapons, such as the Kalashnikov. But the jihadists have American guns captured from the Iraqi Army, which infamously fled when first confronted by ISIS last year. ISIS is using the weapons against the Peshmerga — who at first only had vintage Warsaw Pact weapons, but now are capturing more firepower in clashes with the terrorists.
The Kurds have a lot of spare parts for Russian-made weapons, but few parts for the American-made M-16 and AR-15 rifles the U.S. introduced into Iraq more than a decade ago.
“The weapons I see the most are Russian,” Aziz said. “They were all made in the 1950s, like the machine guns. Eighty-five percent of the weapons are from Russia.”
Aziz doesn’t merely fix guns, he assembles them using cheap Chinese parts. He recently displayed what looked like an M-4 carbine, but upon closer inspection was a modified M-16, a longer and heavier gun the Peshmerga eschews. Aziz is adept at taking an M-16, changing the stock and hand-guard, and shortening the barrel to make a gun that approximates an M-4.