TAL AFAR, IRAQ—Admitting it had stopped counting after the first dozen or so occasions upon which it passed from one fighting force to another, an American-made M4 carbine assault rifle confirmed Wednesday it was losing track of how many times it had switched sides during the ongoing war in Iraq.
According to the standard-issue automatic weapon, which was transported to Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in 2003, it has changed hands so often since arriving in the country that it can no longer remember all the insurgent factions, terrorist organizations, and military groups it belonged to before ISIS took possession of it last month.
“I definitely started out with the Americans—I know that—and then I was with the new Iraqi Army for a while, but after that it’s all kind of a blur,” the rifle said of its 13 years of near-continuous use in various military operations, uprisings, and sectarian battles. “At one time or another, I’ve been with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Promised Day Brigade, some Salafi Islamists, a British commando unit, the Badr Organization, and God knows who else. And if I had to guess, I think I’ve been back with the U.S. Army three times. Maybe four.”
“And I know I was in Syria a couple times, but I honestly couldn’t tell you which side I was on,” the 5.56-millimeter firearm added.
The gun was able to confirm that, when the U.S. military was training a new Iraqi special forces unit in 2004, it fell into the possession of a defector who fled with it to Baghdad’s Sadr City district and joined the Mahdi Army. The rifle indicated that “things get kind of fuzzy” at that point, stating that it was pretty sure it was then seized by Blackwater agents during a CIA-ordered raid of insurgents and subsequently sold to a local weapons dealer. It quickly added, however, that it wasn’t 100 percent positive it was remembering the sequence in the correct order.
After that, the M4 was reportedly headed out of the country as part of an illicit arms shipment, but Kurdish Peshmerga forces intercepted it just short of the Turkish border, though the gun acknowledged that it might be confusing that instance with the time it was seized by the Peshmerga in a raid on a terrorist safe house in Mosul.
The rifle was unable to confirm its whereabouts at any particular point in the hazy decade that followed, suggesting only that it traversed much of Iraq and the surrounding region as it was repeatedly sold, stolen, seized from weapons caches, or pulled from the hands of dead fighters on active battlefields.
“I remember shooting at Sunni militants from a car at one point probably around 2007, but then I also have this vague memory of being used to retaliate against their Shia rivals a week or two later—not sure how all that happened,” the rifle said. “After a while, it’s pointless to try to sort it out. Was I with the Marines in Anbar province during the surge, or just lying around in an arms depot somewhere in Baghdad? Hell if I know.”
Sources were able to determine the gun had been in Ramadi at various times since the outset of the Iraq War, but noted that the city was successively under the control of the U.S.–led multinational coalition, a series of Sunni insurgents, the Iraqi government, the Islamic State, and then, in late 2015, U.S.–backed Iraqi forces, leaving them no closer to determining which side the rifle had served on.
“I’ve gotten pretty used to moving around constantly, and these days, I don’t even really pay attention to the loyalties of whoever’s carrying me,” the M4 said. “I’ve always wondered if I might make it back to America someday, even though it doesn’t seem very likely anymore.”
“But hey, who knows,” the rifle continued. “I’ve heard I might be going to Europe soon.”