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World

Iraq Holds First National Beauty Pageant In 40 Years

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Miss World 2016 pageant is still many months away, though one contestant is already looking to it with great hope for herself and her country.

SHAIMA QASSEM: (Foreign language spoken).

MONTAGNE: Shaima Qassem is the newly crowned Miss Iraq. When I spoke with her, she said if she's lucky enough to win Miss World, she would like to bring more attention to the struggle of refugees in Iraq, especially the children. When the 20-year-old was crowned in Baghdad last month, it was the first national beauty pageant in that country in more than 40 years. The event was more than just tiaras and evening gowns. It was an attempt to move forward with something of a normal life. And when Shaima Qassem, like many beauty pageant winners before her, said that she hopes for world peace, she really meant it.

QASSEM: (Foreign language spoken).

MONTAGNE: "My dream is to spread a message of peace to the world. Iraqis are fighting to live their lives," as she put it. Qassem grew up in a country at war. Two of her cousins died fighting in the Iraqi army, although she says her own upbringing in Kirkuk was relatively calm. Death threats did mar the Miss Iraq pageant, causing some women to drop out. For the new Miss Iraq though, it was a moment of joy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.