The hulking machine – a T-55, named for the approximate year in the last century when the model went into production – could have been a museum piece. Iraqi mechanics are able to keep it running only by scrounging through scrap yards, local markets and the wrecked hulks on old battlefields for parts that Soviet factories once churned out by the millions but that no one makes – and few even remember – anymore.Link. Image: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times.
But this tank is more than a relic: it is the building block of the new Iraqi Army's first and only armored division. Through an American-sponsored program, the division, with more than 200 old Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers, has been rumbling through villages and fields in this area, trying to dampen insurgent violence.
(...) "The problem is not with the tanks," Colonel Habib said. The right leadership, he said, will make the Russian machines run like "the best tank in the world."
That may be an overstatement. The tanks, though still a formidable threat to fighters on foot, are badly outdated. The remarkably cramped gunner's seat inside the T-55 driven by Mr. Kareem, a soldier in the Iraqi Army, is surrounded by a riot of old dials, switches, belts, wires, cables, leather straps and crude optics along with manual controls for moving the turret and the main gun. Shells must be loaded by hand into the breech of the gun.