Kurdish student defies death threats to become Miss Iraq

Shaima Qassem Abdelrahman crowned winner of first Iraqi beauty contest since 1972

Miss Iraq
(Image credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty)

The Miss Iraq beauty pageant has been held for the first time in over 40 years, despite death threats and the dangers of Islamic State.

Shaima Qassem Abdelrahman, 20, became the first woman to claim the title since the first and last Miss Iraq contest took place in 1972. The economics student from Kirkuk is now eligible to represent the country at the Miss Universe contest.

The organisers of the event describe themselves as "a group of young activists" on a mission to "highlight the bright side in Iraq". However, the Miss Iraq beauty contest did not follow the format of the Miss Universe pageant in its entirety. In line with Iraqi culture, the famous swimsuit modelling round was eliminated from the Miss Iraq pageant and hemlines were kept strictly below the knee – but there were also no headscarves in sight in the line-up.

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Meanwhile, 250 miles to the north in Iraq's second city, Mosul, women living under Islamic State occupation must be covered from head to toe, including gloves and a full face veil.

In spite of organisers' concessions to cultural sensitivities, it was far from smooth sailing for the contestants, two of whom dropped out of the running after receiving death threats from conservative factions within the country. The final of the pageant had to be moved from Basra to Baghdad due to security concerns.

But while modesty might have curtailed some of the physical aspects of the contest, the Miss Iraq hopefuls still faced the traditional question and answer session.

During her last pitch, Shaima Qassem Abdelrahman referred to the country's troubled past, promising to use her fame to help education initiatives, in particular the thousands displaced by the ongoing war.

"I'm very happy to see Iraq going forward," she told AFP after winning the title. "This event was huge and put a smile on the faces of the Iraqis."

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