Hasoun, left: The support astonished me [AFP]
Despite their hardships and deprivation, Iraqis in their thousands have voted for their candidate in the most popular singing contest, the pan-Arab Star Academy reality show.

Star Academy is sponsored by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), and it is dedicated to providing Arab music with fresh, young singers.

Shatha Hasoun won the contest on Friday.

Iraqis - Kurds and Arabs, Muslims and Christians -took to the streets to celebrate the "victory". Streets in Kurdish areas in northern Iraq were packed with cars draped in Iraqi flags.

Hasoun said that she values the support of Iraqis more than the winning itself, knowing they voted while living in great danger.

She said: "The academy is a boarding organisation. When students join, they live and study inside the campus, and they do not know what is going outside, those are the rules. Hence, I was really astonished that Iraqis actually were working on my case while their country is burning.

"It is really amazing, it touched me. I am determined more than at any time in the past to work with my fellow citizens to achieve peace and prosperity to Iraq, the country from which art and science have travelled around the world."

Symbol

Ali Kinana, an Iraqi poet and author, said the event was symbolic. It proved that Iraqis are united but they lacked a symbol to gather around.

He said: "It is a very important message to the world, which I am sure by now thinks that all Iraqis are involved in sectarianism and ethnic extremism. What happened with Shatha proved that some sectarian hungry-for-power Iraqis do not represent the whole Iraqi people.

"No one asked whether Shatha is a Shia, Sunni, Christian or Kurd. Her Iraqi identity was enough to win the support of all Iraqis. I think Iraq needs a symbol nowadays, the lack of a national symbol is causing a lot of confusion and distraction."

Iraqi Kurds celebrated Hasoun's winning
Azad Ahmad, 25, an Iraqi Kurd said: "We are very happy for Shatha and Iraq. We needed such victory to show our passion to Iraq and to our cause. We are Iraqi Kurds and we voted because the candidate is Iraqi and we are Iraqis."

Nuha al-Hariri, 58, said that the huge number of votes cast showed Iraqis expressing unity.

She said: "We wanted to say that we are united, we have nothing to do with what the politicians are doing. Iraqis lived together in harmony, and this will be the case until the end of days. I confess that if Iraq would not be in such an ordeal we would not be that passionate. We believe our country needs this show of support at this stage."

Source: Al Jazeera