For decades, soldiers and gun aficionados have debated the relative merits of the Soviet-designed AK-47 and the American M-16.
Because it fires a larger 7.62-mm round, the Kalashnikov is perceived as having greater stopping power. The M-16 and the shorter-barreled M-4 fire smaller 5.56-mm rounds. The Kalashnikov can fire its entire 30-round magazine with a single pull of the trigger. The M-16 tops out at three-shot bursts.
The American gun has less recoil and greater range, however, and in the hands of well-trained troops, it's more accurate than the AK-47.
The AK-47, however, is considered more reliable, able to withstand fierce conditions and still avoid jamming.
Improvements since the beginning of the Vietnam War have made the M-16 less fragile, but it still requires more fastidious maintenance than the Kalashnikov does. The cheaper AK-47 was designed for conscript armies, and it's circulated throughout the world to thousands of militaries, and paramilitaries where strict discipline and precise training isn't possible.
There are fears that Iraqis may resist switching to the M-16 because they fear it might seize up in battle.
"They believe the AK-47 is more accurate, powerful, and they are used to it," said Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst and small arms specialist for the Center for Defense Information. "They feel like the M-16s jam in the sand."
The AK-47's lower cost and greater reliability in poor conditions help explain why the Kalashnikov is king in most of the world. An estimated 70 million to 100 million AK-47s are in circulation, compared to about 7 million M-16s and M-4s.
For more on the AK-47, go to: http://kalashnikov.guns.ru/models/ka50.html
For more on the M-16, go to: http://www.army.mil/fact_files_site/m16/index.html
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.