Coca-Cola has returned to Iraq after an absence of nearly four decades, triggering a cola war in a lucrative but potentially hostile market.
Coke ended its 37-year exile last week by setting up a joint-venture
bottling company to compete with Pepsi for 26 million consumers.
The upsides for Coke include a thirst-inducing climate and burgeoning
Islamic conservatism which has banned beer and other alcoholic drinks in much of the country.
The downsides, besides Pepsi’s head start, are a raging insurgency and
banditry which threaten supply routes, and a perception that Coca-Cola is linked to Israel and “American Zionists”.
Coke withdrew from Iraq in 1968 when the Arab League declared a boycott because of business ties to Israel, leaving Pepsi to dominate the Middle East market for soft drinks. The boycott ended in 1991, but sanctions and wars kept Coke out of Iraq.
After a trickle of Coca-Cola imports from neighbouring countries, the
company is attempting a proper comeback by launching a joint venture with a Turkish company, Efes Invest, and its Iraqi partner HMBS, which will reportedly bottle the Coke in Dubai and distribute it across Iraq.
“A local bottling company will employ local people to do this,” a Coca-Cola spokesman said yesterday. “This happens in most of the 200 countries in which we operate around the world, despite the perception of us as an American company.”
The response in Baghdad yesterday was mixed. One drink wholesaler, Abbas Salih, said the initiative was doomed. “Coca-Cola does business with those who are shooting our brothers in Palestine,” he said. “How can we drink it?”
Abu Ream, a shop owner in Baghdad, repeated a widespread conspiracy theory: “If you hold up a Coke can to the mirror, the writing says ‘No Allah’,” Mr Ream said. “Or maybe ‘No Mohammad’. I can’t remember which.”…
Mr. Ream, it’s “La Muhammad, la Makka,” which of course means “No Muhammad, no Mecca.” Amazing how a drink launched in the late nineteenth century in the American South could bear such a message. Those Zionists are everywhere!