Sunday, October 19, 2003

"It tastes like home, yes it does," said Staff Sgt. Mark Williams, 50, from Pittsburgh, after tearing off a chunk of his Whopper with cheese.

The former Saddam International Airport now houses Iraq's first Burger King. Part creature comfort, part therapy for homesick troops, its sales have reached the top 10 among all Burger King franchises on Earth in the five months since it opened. The shiny metal broiler spits out 5,000 patties a day.

The takeout stand is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and offers six sandwiches; a normal menu has 16. There are no milkshakes. But even with the limited menu and with competition from the Bob Hope dining facility at the airport, which is free and serves 8,000 meals a day, Burger King's daily sales reach $15,000 to $18,000, military officials say.

The restaurant probably owes much of its success to its location. The sprawling, heavily fortified airport complex, the nerve center of the U.S. military's operations in Iraq, provides a captive clientele of more than 6,000 soldiers, plus contractors and other civilians. In addition, Washington dignitaries fly in and out, and all mail for U.S. forces in Iraq arrives here.

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