Abu Tahsin al-Salihi: The Sharpshooter Who Defied ISIS and Became a Legend

After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iraq plunged into political turmoil. The new government struggled with weakness and corruption, failing to provide basic services, especially in terms of security. This vacuum allowed extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to thrive. The chaos culminated in June 2014 when ISIS launched a wave of attacks, swiftly capturing significant portions of northern and western Iraq, including the major city of Mosul.

In response to the ISIS onslaught, the Iraqi government launched massive military operations. With international coalition support, including from the United States, they formed the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a coalition of armed factions predominantly composed of Shia fighters with members from Sunni, Christian, and Yazidi communities. One iconic figure within the PMU stood out as a feared adversary of ISIS: Abu Tahsin al-Salihi, also known as “Eagle Eye” and “Sheikh Sniper.”

Born Ali Jiyad Obaid al-Salihi on July 1, 1953, in Basra, southern Iraq, he adopted the alias Abu Tahsin. Growing up amidst Iraq’s turbulent history, he witnessed political upheavals, social transformations, and the looming specter of conflict. In his teenage years, he traveled to Kuwait, where he herded goats and sheep to earn money. It was during this time that he acquired a French rifle, using it for hunting rabbits and houbara birds.

Abu Tahsin honed his skills further by undergoing hunting training in the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, becoming the second-best graduate. His life experiences extended beyond the horrors inflicted by ISIS, with his gaze spanning the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, the Iran-Iraq conflict (1980–1988), and the Gulf War shocks of the 1990s.

Abu Tahsin decided to take up arms against the brutal ISIS forces, transitioning from a village farmer to a precise instrument in the Brigade Ali al-Akbar of the PMU. His commitment to defending Iraq led him to the forefront of the conflict, claiming nearly 400 ISIS militant lives. His relentless pursuit of extremists showcased not just his marksmanship but also his unwavering dedication to his homeland.

Abu Tahsin wasn’t merely a war hero; outside the armed conflict, he was a father, friend, and mentor whose influence transcended the boundaries of warfare. His wisdom, compassion, and steadfast commitment to his principles left an indelible impression on his eleven beloved children—six sons and five daughters.

In his daily life, Abu Tahsin was inseparable from his Steyr HS.50 caliber rifle, an Austrian-made anti-material bolt-action sniper known for its accuracy and formidable power. His calm demeanor and focused mind, as captured in videos released by Al Sura, showcased his ability to target enemies with precision.

On September 29, 2017, at the age of 64, Abu Tahsin al-Salihi’s rifle fell silent in Hawija, northwest Iraq. His last shot wasn’t aimed at an enemy but at the jaws of death itself. Despite doubling his target count to 384 by killing four ISIS fighters that day, he, along with two other snipers, was tragically surrounded and killed in the operation.

Abu Tahsin’s departure resonated across Iraq. Thousands attended his funeral in Najaf, and his posters adorned the walls and streets of Iraqi cities. Supporters even enshrined his weapon in a museum, immortalizing the legacy of a man who, through decades of conflict, became a symbol of Iraq’s resistance against terror.