Baghdad holds Miss Iraq pageant for first time in 43 years

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BAGHDAD, Iraq – When Shaima Qasim was crowned Miss Iraq this weekend, she not only triumphed over the other women in the competition but over threats against her life.

The pageant was the first to be held in Baghdad in 43 years.

“Iraq needed this,” pageant director Ahmed Leith said. “The situation is weak here, and we wanted to celebrate this the same way other countries like Lebanon and others do. To have a sense of normalcy.”

But as the date of the event approached, the number of competitors dwindled.

The pageant website and its Facebook page were inundated with death threats against the women — so much so that the nearly 200 participants dropped to less than 10.

In the end, Qasim, 20, an economics major at the University of Kirkuk, received her crown to the applause of a supportive audience cheering her on for prevailing against the odds.

For the director Leith and the rest of the audience, Qasim’s victory was about more than winning a beauty pageant.

“It is about having the courage to stand against all odds, something we all try to do.”