Iraq holds first beauty pageant since 1972
IT WAS smoky, alcohol-free and there was no swimsuit contest but Saturday's party at a Baghdad hotel ballroom produced the first Miss Iraq in four decades and left all feeling a small victory had been won.
The jury chose Shaymaa Abdelrahman, a tall, green-eyed 20-year-old from Iraq's multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk.
The decision was popular with those in attendance.
"I'm very happy to see Iraq going forward," the new beauty queen told Agence France-Presse as she tried to fend off a scrum of admirers hoping to clinch a selfie. "This event was huge and put a smile on the faces of the Iraqis."
The last time the Miss Iraq competition was held was in 1972, when the oil-rich country was on an upward track.
Saturday's pageant was designed to meet enough international criteria to propel its winner to the next Miss Universe contest but some details, such as the Kalashnikov-toting guard at the door, set the event firmly in Iraq.
Iraq is wracked by an ongoing war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the world's most brutal Islamist militant organisation, and plagued by deep sectarian tensions and corruption.
But the pageant left participants, organisers and guests feeling that beating the gloom was part of the war effort.
"I think it is wonderful. It makes you feel things can come back to normal," said veteran human rights activist Hana Edwar.