By Army Sgt. David Turner
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 19, 2008 - Ahmed Adnan Hashim is passionate about yogurt. He's also passionate about cheese and cream and the other products produced at the Nu-Nu factory in Bada, a small town in the northern part of Iraq's Babil province. With his brother, Qahetan, managing the factory, Nu-Nu produces what Ahmed said is the best yogurt in Iraq. One of the reasons local citizens depend on our products is that we deal in high quality," he said.
Locally made Iraqi products aren't just a matter of pride with Ahmed. Imported products contain additives, he said, something he doesn't need to do, since his products are shipped fresh and tested regularly. To demonstrate the quality, he opened a container of his yogurt and held it upside down, and the yogurt stayed inside.
"You couldn't do that with the imported stuff," he said. "People in Basra and Nasariyah in the south or Mosul in the north always ask us to provide them with products. It's a good sign for us that people still want high quality," he said.
The business, which currently employs about 175 people, used to employ nearly 300, but unsafe roads restricted fresh-milk deliveries from local farmers, reducing production.
"We faced a hard situation when the insurgents and militias took over the neighborhoods here," Ahmed recalled. "We faced a lot of problems, especially with the power."
The decline made room for cheaper, poorer-quality imported products in the marketplace. Unreliable power generation makes it difficult to keep machines working and products refrigerated.
During a recent visit to Ahmed's office, the lights went out twice. The two large generators, which provided most of the factory's power, were so old and in such disrepair that they barely worked at all.
Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, learned of the factory's problems during an assessment of businesses in the area. They tracked down two one-megawatt generators at the Iskandariyah Industrial Complex, which the large, state-owned company was willing to donate.
With a pair of heavy-equipment transporters, 2-502nd Infantry Regiment soldiers delivered the generators to Nu-Nu factory Aug. 5. Though slightly used, the generators represented a huge savings to the factory; purchased new, the pair would have cost almost $1 million.
"We discovered this was something they were lacking, and not only would it bring revenue and jobs, but it would also help the whole country as well," said Army Capt. Robert Slubowski, executive officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-502nd Infantry Regiment.
The generator delivery is only half the battle, though. The generators require repairs and maintenance before they can take over the job of supplying the factory's electricity needs. The biggest obstacle is obtaining the parts, which may cost as much as $40,000. Slubowski, from Branford, Conn., is now working on locating those parts at the best price for the factory.
"We were able to save them quite a bit, so we're hoping with that money, they will be able to get the parts they need," Slubowski said.
Slubowski said that although Nu-Nu isn't exactly a small business, the downturn in production and competition with cheaper imports has left the company in dire financial straits.
"They've been running at a loss pretty much since  because of low productivity, but they've been able to come through. I think a lot of that money is coming from their other businesses they run or personal money," he said. "I think that says a lot about their character."
Qahetan said he considered other business opportunities in Canada and the United Arab Emirates, but he and his brother decided to stay in Iraq and get through the lean times.
"[Ahmed] strikes me as a good guy who genuinely cares about his product and is proud of what he does," Slubowski said. "He wants people to want to buy his product, not because it is one of the only ones available, but because it's the best."
During a recent visit, Ahmed gave Slubowski a tour of the factory, insisting that he sample each product. Ahmed also pointed out a new facility at the factory, where plans are in place to begin producing meat products. If they are successful, Ahmed hopes expansion will put the factory back on solid ground. The good reputation his products enjoy will be the key to that success, he said.
(Army Sgt. David Turner serves in the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team's Public Affairs Office.)