Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(Soundbite of song)


That's the voice of Shadha Hassoun, the Iraqi contestant on "Star Academy." The show is often referred to as the Arab world's version of "American Idol." Last night, Hassoun beat out three other finalists to win the competition.

(Soundbite of "Star Academy")

ELLIOTT: There was no electricity in Baghdad last night. Only the households with generators were able to tune in to watch the broadcast from Beirut, but the excitement was at a fever pitch. When her win was announced, the local anchor broke into the show to cheer her on.

(Soundbite of screaming man)

ELLIOTT: Shadha Hassoun left Iraq when she was a child but speaks Arabic with a heavy Iraqi accent. And no one's sure if she's Sunni or Shiite, so both groups have embraced her. "Star Academy" viewers sent text messages like, You are the one who unites all of Iraq, from north to south, from the Tigris to the Euphrates.

Hassoun returned the affection. After she won, she knelt on the stage wrapped in an Iraqi flag. Hassoun's victory comes after a particularly brutal week in Iraq. Sectarian violence claimed hundreds of lives, and some Iraqis say there's nothing to do but stay home and watch TV.

Baghdad gallery owner Samir Stefan(ph) told the Washington Post, the feeling that we have deep inside our hearts is that someone is trying to make us lose our Iraqi identity. That makes us hold onto anything that makes us feel we are Iraqis and we are united.

As the news of Shadha's victory spread, celebratory gunfire rang out in Baghdad over the hum of generators.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

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