10 Junk Food Brands That Made a Buck in Iraq

When American and British troops returned to Iraq in 2003 — to liberate, or to invade, depending on who exactly you are listening to — they soon found that many of their fast food favorites from back home had followed them into the war zone. Camp Victory (the optimistically-named main US Army base situated around Baghdad International Airport) and other such installations housed most of the usual junk food suspects within their temporary walls. However, following the announcement this summer that many of the outlets will be closing down their operations due to continued troop withdrawals, it looks as though the Iraqi branch of the war on the waistline is coming to an end. Saddam Hussein himself loved Doritos — but what would he have made of these companies making inroads into Iraq?

10. Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut, the 53-year-old purveyors of generously topped circular doughy-ness, were one of the first of the big fast food chains to open up for business in Iraq. Their first franchise was set up in a British military base near Basra, to rapturous applause from soldiers. The restaurant was run by Kuwaiti franchise holders, with an undisclosed percentage of profits going to charity. Further branches later opened, including outlets at Camp Victory; the huge installation at Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad; and the similarly massive Al Asad Airbase, 100 miles west of the Iraqi capital. In news of booming business in 2004, a US Department of Defense press release read, “At any given time throughout the day, at least 50 to 75 people were waiting in line for a taste of golden fries or pizza.”

9. Burger King

The world’s second largest hamburger chain (after you-know-who) has been in Iraq since 2003, when they opened an outlet near Basra. The home of the Whopper went on to establish several more branches, and soldiers have been able to have it their way in Tallil, Tikrit, Balad, Kirkuk, Taji and Camp Liberty. On opening day in the Iraq International Zone in 2005, the new BK apparently averaged more than 80 Whoppers an hour and finished up serving 888 Whoppers and 357 pounds of fries. It would take more than two hands to handle that lot.

8. McDonald’s

The opening of a “culturally sensitive” McDonald’s in Baghdad may well have been part of George W. Bush’s grand plan for Iraq several years ago, but the reality of such a vision hasn’t quite transpired. While a genuine Big Mac and fries can be obtained in Baghdad’s Green Zone, MaDonal, an Iraqi imitator in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, has proved to be more popular and more prolific. Owned by former Kurdish resistance fighter Suleiman Qassab, MaDonal is a successful restaurant, especially popular with young people. Qassab is just one of many who applied for an official McDonald’s franchise in Iraq but, according to a journalist from Canada’s Globe and Mail, “[t]he flow of applications to open an Iraqi McDonald’s stopped as quickly as it started, and the corporate lawyers never came to Sulaymaniyah.”

7. Taco Bell

Taco Bell serves more than two billion customers every year in America, and since the occupation of Iraq, they have been doling out their Mexican-inspired fare to US soldiers based there as well. Situated in various Army and Air Force Exchange Service bases, including Camp Victory, Taco Bell has been another familiar chain giving soldiers a little taste of home. However, with the news that the fast food tour of duty is drawing to a close, those remaining will have to find other options.

6. Subway

The foot-long sandwiches of Subway have been another constant at US bases in Iraq, including Camp Victory, Al Asad Air Base, and Joint Base Balad — where, as of 2009, Indian and Bangladeshi workers were preparing and selling the food to grateful soldiers. With more than 35,000 franchises in 98 countries, Subway’s global enterprise shows no sign of slowing down as yet, although its Iraq exercise may, at least for the time being, be coming to an end.

5. Dairy Queen

Word has it there is — or at least has been — a Dairy Queen outlet in Erbil, Iraq. Soldiers desperate for an ice cold blast of home have been known to drive through dangerous territories to get their hands on a DQ Blizzard. The soft serve Queen has every reason for a successful adventure in Iraq; Iraqis are huge consumers of ice cream and enjoy the stuff all year round. The Flamethrower GrillBurger, on the other hand, might prove to be a tougher sell…

4. Baskin Robbins

Economists estimate that the war in Iraq has cost US taxpayers nearly $12 billion a month since 2003. Think how much ice cream you could buy with that! Baskin Robbins, the home of the famous 31 flavors, has been in Iraq since the early days, and immigrant workers — flown in to feed the soldiers — have served thousands of scoops to troops. The ice cream stores are a firm favorite with the so-called Fobbits — the soldiers who rarely leave the Forward Operating Base — who will have to find an alternative when the company leaves the bases.

3. Cinnabon

With outlets located at Camp Taji, Camp Victory, Al Asad Air Base and AAFES in Balad, Cinnabon’s famous large cinnamon roll has been well represented in Iraq. The Georgia-based baked goods company has grown considerably in the last decade; as of 2009 there were over 750 Cinnabon bakeries in over 30 countries worldwide. However, with the December 31, 2011 withdrawal date from Iraq looming ever closer — and outlets having already been shuttered — any remaining troops may have to look a little further afield for their cinnamon fix.

2. Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest selling soft drink, returned to Iraq in 2005 after an absence of 37 years. The reason for Coke’s disappearance from Iraq lies in the Arab League’s 1968 decision to boycott companies with links to Israel, and some feeling persists that Coke is pro-Israel. In 2005, a Baghdad shop owner repeated a widely held conspiracy theory that “[i]f you hold up a Coke can to the mirror, the writing says ‘No Allah.'” Coke’s fight for hearts and minds in Iraq may be getting easier with the news, in 2011, that Coca-Cola Icecek has acquired all of the remaining shares in Iraq drinks bottler CC Beverage for $36.9 million. Maybe Coke will be “it” for Iraqis after all.

1. Pepsi

Pepsi has a long history in Iraq. The brand launched there in 1950 and became the country’s leading soft drink brand. Indeed, for many years its status as the market leader went unchallenged; Coca-Cola left the field open following the fallout after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. However, after the Gulf War, Pepsi lost the right to do business in Iraq or trade with the country. In 2003, sanctions forced the local Pepsi maker to use counterfeit concentrate imported from Europe, but Pepsi has remained number one, thanks in part to the efforts of Hamid Jassim Khamis, the CEO of Baghdad Soft Drinks Co, which holds the license to distribute Pepsi in Iraq. It faces a strong test in the future, however, and not only from Coke — back on the shelves since 2005 — but from other Arabic soft drinks, all competing for 26 million consumers.