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IRAQ: An Iranian export that Iraqis can enjoy

May 1, 2008 | 10:20 am

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By Saif Rasheed in Baghdad

Iraq and the United States accuse Iran of sending arms to Iraqi militants and offering them training, but there's one thing Iran is exporting that few can complain about: Barfab air coolers.

I recently spent two consecutive mornings wandering along Karada Out, the famous electronics market street in Baghdad, looking for some of these air coolers. It wasn't easy, because there are a lot of companies making knock-offs of the real thing.

Finally, I found a shop with the genuine item and bought three for my house at $175 each. 

Since the war began, Iraqis have turned to air coolers instead of air conditioners because of the continuous blackouts. Home generators rarely produce enough power to run an air conditioner, leaving people little choice in the summer but to sweat in misery, get an air cooler, or, in extreme cases, sit in their cars with the air conditioners running.

The Barfab coolers emerged on the market shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein when Iraq's borders flew open to imports. They quickly overtook Iraqi air coolers in popularity, because most people think the Iranian ones use less power, are cheaper, and lighter. It's easy to fix them because parts are easily available.

There are plenty of different Iranian-made coolers, but the most popular in Iraq is the Barfab.

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You might think an air cooler is a a benign item, but not necessarily here in Iraq. After the Iranian products became popular, some militants in areas of Iraq under control of Sunni Muslim fundamentalists became upset. Because Iran is a Shiite country, they saw the imports as another sign of Shiite domination and tried to prevent people in Sunni areas from using Barfabs.

After those groups began losing power, due to increased U.S. and Iraqi military activities, Iranian products, including the beloved Barfabs, returned to the markets.

There is only one down side to air coolers. They don't work in humid climates, because their cooling system depends upon vaporization of water. If the air is too wet, it defeats the principle. In Baghdad and most of Iraq's dry climate, though, an air cooler is ideal, and it sure beats spending the summer sitting in the car.

Photos: Shoppers snap up Barfab air coolers. By Saad Khalaf

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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