First Published: 2003-07-15

 
Burger King in Baghdad
 

Military-controlled Baghdad international airport's Burger King claims to sell at least 6,500 burgers per day.

 

Middle East Online

By Ned Parker - BAGHDAD

US troops dig in for long haul

Check your doubts about American plans for nation building in Iraq at the counter of the Burger King takeaway where 40 soldiers sizzle in the midday heat for a flame-broiled Whopper with lettuce, tomato and cheese.

The odour of grease testifies to the Pentagon's belief that air conditioning, fast food, compact disc players and Coca Cola are essential to the survival of young soldiers far from their native soil.

"It's amazing what this stuff does for these kids," says Marie Cliff from Army Airforce Exchange Services (AAES), the Defense Department branch managing the military-controlled Baghdad international airport's Burger King and one-stop shopping center.

If June saw a spike in ambush-style attacks against Americans, it also witnessed the army open its first Burger King and beef up the merchandise at its shopping centre to provide soldiers with the creature comforts of home.

"We're a quality-of-life support group," says Cliff at this central hub of traffic for troops from the 1st and 3rd infantry divisions, all of whom make shopping and French fry runs. The Burger King claims to sell at least 6,500 burgers per day.

As divisions see their tours of duty extended indefinitely in the face of a violent campaign against their presence in Iraq, anything reeking of Americana is welcome to the troops.

On Burger King's first day in business in mid-June, the lines lasted more than two hours, but soldiers patiently waited for their burgers after months of plastic-sealed Meals Ready to Eat, with their set menu of processed Cheese Whiz and Beef Stew.

"One soldier just sat against a wall with his hamburger like a little boy," sighs Cliff.

Inside the 6,000 square foot (540 square metre) shopping centre, managed by AAES, Nintendo Play Stations have gone on sale in the last week, and a full supply of DVD films and compact discs, everything from albums by rapper Eminem to country singer Johnny Cash, have started to pour in.

Coca Cola and tortilla chips sell like mad, and the store plans on moving into a 20,000 sq foot facility by August.

"A month ago, things started to trickle in through the pipeline and now that'll start to mature," says Cliff, who wears combat fatigues although she is a civilian employee of the defense department.

"We're ready to move to a bigger facility."

As the United States has tightened its security grip on Iraq, the traffic of merchandise has jumped up, Cliff explains.

Goods are hauled in by truck from Kuwait, including copious amounts of hamburgers, onion rings and French fries for Burger King.

Cliff envisions expanding the store's selection of compact discs to include jazz and classical music and to start selling mountain bikes so soldiers can move faster around the airport.

"Of course, we have to go with the top sellers," she says, donning her Iraqi freedom hat.

She clearly sees this job as much more than managing a shopping center back in Colorado where she lives.

"I'm doing my duty," she says.

And the potent concoction of hamburgers, karate films, cigarette cartons and soda pop clearly have had the intended effect with soldiers.

Corporal Buckshot Blumer, a military policeman at Abu Gharib prison west of Baghdad, was happy to make a pit stop at the airport. He surveyed a gift shop stocked with rugs, cigarette lighters and the famous playing cards of Iraq's 55 most wanted.

"It's nice to get a little air conditioning," he sighed with a smile on his face as Burger King beckoned.

 

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