DUHOK, Iraq (Reuters) - The newest enterprise bearing Donald Trump’s name is not a five-star hotel or an exclusive golf club. It is a restaurant in northern Iraq serving fire-roasted carp for $10 a kilo which the U.S. president-elect probably doesn’t even know exists.
Trump Fish, whose logo features the businessman-turned-politician’s distinctive yellow mane, opened about 10 days ago in the Kurdish city of Duhok, an hour’s drive from the latest battle against Islamic State militants in Mosul.
Owner Nedyar Zawity says he registered the Trump name months ago with Kurdish authorities. The 31-year-old entrepreneur insists the branding is more about turning a profit than endorsing politics, but he likes Trump’s strong personality and reputation as a successful businessman.
Above all, he appreciates the president-elect’s promise to ramp up support to the Kurds and their peshmerga fighters, a sensitive proposition in a country where competing pro-government forces vie for Western backing.
“I personally love Trump for this,” Zawity told Reuters. “The name Trump is beloved in Kurdistan.”
The Kurds, oppressed under successive Arab governments in Iraq, are perhaps the biggest victors of the new order born out of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
While Iraqi Arabs further south have been gripped by sectarian conflict for more than a decade, Kurdistan remained relatively safe, enjoyed an economic boom and steadily developed its autonomy.
More recently, Kurdish peshmerga fighters - whose name literally means “those who face death” - have proven vital U.S. allies in the war against Islamic State, which seized a third of the country in 2014 when Iraqi forces collapsed.
The Kurds have pushed for years to receive direct support instead of aid funnelled through Baghdad - something Washington has resisted in pursuit of a strategy to prevent Iraq fragmenting.
Trump gave the Kurds hope that this might change when, during the campaign, he praised their fighters’ skill and loyalty and called for them to be armed. ”I‘m a big fan of the Kurdish forces,” he said in July.
Trump’s position on full Kurdish independence is unclear and his office did not respond to a request for comment.
But many Kurds will be hoping that his endorsement of their military prowess will translate into political support for the long-held ambition of statehood for their autonomous region, which relies heavily for income on foreign aid and oil sales.
Trump Fish, located between an appliance shop and a laundromat, has not yet turned a profit, according to Zawity, who runs the eatery with his three brothers.
The dining room was empty when Reuters visited at lunchtime, save a few customers who had ordered takeaway.
The restaurant offers just one dish: masgouf, a grilled fish farmed in local rivers and seasoned with olive oil, pepper, lemon and spices. It is considered Iraq’s national dish.
The Trump name has helped attract customers, according to Zawity, including Westerners who say they don’t necessarily support the Republican figure but dine here for novelty’s sake.
“He is an American, maybe he is not my favourite, but he is still American. So I‘m happy to try a restaurant with an American name with Kurdish-Iraqi food,” said David Hirsch, a librarian at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Yet it has also garnered enmity from some quarters, including online critics who accuse Zawity of being an American or Israeli agent and have sent him threats.
Some customers upset with Trump’s campaign pledge to impose a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States have boycotted the restaurant, he said.
Echoing an opinion held by many Trump supporters in the region, Zawity attributes the proposed ban to the demands of campaigning and does not believe it will be implemented.
He even hopes to take his Trump caricature logo to the United States and open another restaurant there. “Give me a visa and I will go tomorrow,” he said with a chuckle.
Zawity could face resistance to such expansion from Trump’s own operation, which relies heavily for revenues on branding and merchandising its name.
The incoming leader of the world’s superpower is less likely to challenge another show of Kurdish support: Local media reported last weekend that a peshmerga fighter on the front lines against Islamic State had named his newborn son “Trump”.
Editing by Dominic Evans and Jeremy Gaunt