Despite being a war-torn zone, Iraq still embraces some forms of pop culture and fashion.
Case in point: After more than 40 years, the Muslim-dominated country held its first beauty pageant, crowning its first Miss Iraq since 1972.
"Some people out there think we don't love life,” said Humam al-Obeidi, one of the organizers of the event.
The contest was conducted in the Baghdad hotel ballroom following moderate standards of dressing, which means the event did not include alcohol, bikinis or above-knee length dresses. However, it was designed to meet international criteria, allowing its winner to take part in the next Miss Universe contest.
"I think it is wonderful; it makes you feel things can come back to normal," veteran human rights activist Hana Edwar opined.
The beauty pageant included eight final contestants, who not only walked around the stage in high heels and glamorous apparel, but also pitched their charity projects to the judges.
Shaymaa Abdelrahman — a tall, green-eyed 20-year-old from Iraq's multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk — won the Miss Iraq title.
"I'm very happy to see Iraq going forward," the new beauty queen told AFP as she tried to fend off a crowd of admirers hoping to click a selfie. "This event was huge and put a smile on the faces of the Iraqis."
With her sash slung across her body and a bouquet in hand, Abdelrahman did well as the new beauty queen, as she never stopped smiling while saying all the right things.
She said that she would use her fame to encourage educational initiatives, specifically among the people who have been displaced because of conflict in the country.
During the week prior to the final event, the eight contestants indulged in a set of pre-pageant activities, which including visiting a camp for the displaced in Baghdad.
"We look forward to having a good ambassador for Iraq," said Senan Kamel, the 2015 pageant's artistic director, who also organized Iraq's first fashion show in years last March.
"What we're hoping to accomplish is to make Iraq's voice heard, show that it is still alive, that its heart is still beating," he added.
Indeed this beauty pageant is a progressive step made by Iraq, and hopefully the fashion industry in the country will see a rise in times to come.