Islamic State threat boosts business for Kurdish gunsmith
IRBIL, Iraq (AP) In gunsmith Bahktiyar Sadr-Aldeen's workshop in this Kurdish city in northern Iraq, every weapon has a story. These days, there are lots of stories to tell.
Sadr-Aldeen, an Iraqi Kurd, has seen his business shoot up by 50 percent since last June, when the Islamic State group took over the Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Irbil. The Kurdish fighting force known as the pershmerga has been at war against the Sunni extremists ever since, keeping Aldeen busy.
"Now the whole of Iraq is in war because of Daesh," said Sadr-Aldeen, using one of the Islamic State group's alternative names.
"Weapons naturally break during the fighting, and there's no professional company that can fix these weapons," he said. "That's why I fix them. We can't just throw them away, because we are in war."
Just 36 years old, Sadr-Aldeen already has more than a quarter-century of experience, making him the peshmerga's top gunsmith in the region. He says he now fixes eight to 10 weapons a day.
For three days, Sadr-Aldeen has been trying to polish the blood off an M16 rifle brought in by a pershmerga soldier last week. He says the rifle took a long, roundabout journey before reaching the Kurdish fighters.
"It is an American-made gun given to the Iraqi army in Mosul. Daesh took it. It was in the hands of Daesh and five days ago it fell into the hands of peshmerga," he said.
Located in a cellar in Irbil's bazaar, the shop is a well-known spot for peshmerga soldiers. Darawan Abu Bakr, a 28 year-old fighter who was on leave from his post outside the city of Kirkuk, is a regular customer.
"I brought this one to Bakhtiyar. There's something wrong with the chamber, so he has to fix it," he said. "I brought other weapons to Bakhtiyar as well and he repaired all of them. He's very good in his job. None of his repaired guns malfunctioned again. They all worked perfectly."
Sadr-Aldeen doesn't limit his work to his shop. Sometimes he goes out to the front lines himself, mostly to repair heavy weapons that can't be transported. The peshmerga send a car and take him out to the front to do his work. He said he does not charge for the battlefield repairs, saying that is his way of supporting the cause.
With a shortage of parts, Sadr-Aldeen has been forced to perfect his improvisational skills. On a recent day, he was working on a spring that belongs to a Soviet-made "doshka" heavy machine gun that is nearly 50 years old. "It's very weak. It's not firing. I'm going to harden it again by putting it in water because I don't have spare parts of this," he explained.
The repair shop was started by Sadr-Aldeen's father.
Sadr-Aldeen, now a father of five, has been working in the shop since he was a child, with pictures hanging on the walls to prove it. He took over the business when he was just 11 years old after his father was arrested by the forces of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. His father spent 10 years in prison and today is unable to work because of health issues.
"I have worked here since my childhood. I used to work with my father until now," he said.
Sadr-Aldeen does more than repairs. He also modifies weapons, taking special pride for his work on Kalashnikov rifles. He showed off one weapon with a shortened barrel that makes it lighter and capable of firing more powerful bursts of ammunition.
"I modified every single part of it. The cover, the folding arm, the chamber, I made it fourteen years ago. It's all handmade," he said.