By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
After the sighting of North Korean Type-73 light machine guns (LMGs) in Iraq, it now appears several examples of this rare firearm have made their way to Syria with the deployment of the Iraqi Shiite militia Kata'ib al-Imam Ali to this country. Kata'ib al-Imam Ali's involvement in Syria has been centered around the regime's offensive in Northern Aleppo in February 2016, aimed at cutting off rebel forces North and North-East of Aleppo.
While it was already known the large number of Iraqi Shiite militias deployed to Syria brought their own equipment in from Iraq (even including U.S. M-1114s), the chances of one or more Type-73 LMGs being amongst these weapons was deemed to be quite small, especially when considering Iraq never was an operator of the Type-73. Indeed, it was Iran who supplied limited numbers of these LMGs to the various Shiite militias operating under the Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella organisation.
Iran originally received its Type-73s during the Iran-Iraq war in the early eighties, which forced Iran to look for a supplier that could provide Iran with various types of weaponry that could quickly be delivered: North Korea. Although the Type-73 served alongside its older brother, the PK(M), it appeared to have been discarded after enough Iranian PKMs were produced. One Type-73 with a stick magazine next to a PK(M) can be seen in the image below, taken during the Iran-Iraq War.
The Type-73 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 same the 7.62x54R cartridge used by the PK, ensuring munition for it is always available in conflict areas such as Syria and Iraq. 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. Other examples have been spotted in Zimbabwe and more recently Iraq, where it was in the hands of various Iran-backed militias including the aforementioned Kata'ib al-Imam Ali, which can be seen pictured with another Type-73 while posing next to dismantled IEDs below.
The images come amidst a flurry of newly confirmed North Korean armament in the Middle East, and shows just how pervasive the North's influence on the international arms trafficking market continues to be even as sanctions constrain its abilities more and more. When or where new evidence of North Korean weaponry will pop up next can only be guessed at, but the fact that it will is undeniable.
Iranian delivered North Korean Type-73 machine guns joining the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq
North Korean anti-tank missiles in the Middle East