Within this complex reality, some people have been trying to restore past glory and organize a beauty pageant of international standards in the split and polarized country. While beauty pageants have been held in Iraq in recent years, the country has not sent a representative to an international contest in more than 40 years.
"There are many indications that Iraq is finished, but such contests give hope that life in Iraq goes on," Senan Kamel, the pageant's spokesman and one of its judges, told Reuters.
But it turns out that it's not so simple to organize such a pageant in Iraq these days. Organizers are facing an angry backlash from religious hardliners and conservative tribal leaders who say such pageants are un-Islamic and threaten public morality.
At least two young women have reportedly pulled out of the contest after receiving death threats. The organizers are also trying to deflect some of the criticism. According to the pageant's spokesman, the swimsuit section has been replaced with a more conservative outfit in order to keep in line with the sensitivities of a conservative Islamic country, though a ban on Islamic headscarves remains, in keeping with the protocol of Western pageants.
"If we don't stick to the standards, we will not receive approval to participate in international competitions, but for sure we are not at the stage of wearing bathing suits," said Kamel.
"Are you beautiful and civilized?" says the ad aired this month on Iraqi television station al-Mada, which plans to broadcast the contest and is trying to encourage Iraq's young women to participate in it. "Do you have the standards to be a queen? Participate in order to represent Iraq in the international pageants for the world's 2015 beauty queen."
In light of the harsh criticism, however, the pageant has been postponed from early October to December, following threats from tribal leaders who refuse to let young women from their clans participate in the contest.
An Iraqi television channel affiliated with the Shi'ite population even warned this month that the event would corrupt public morals and "create a base culture while our people face the danger of terrorism."
But the outcry and protests of Iraq's conservative groups have not discouraged some of the Miss Iraq contestants, including Lubna Hameed, a 21-year-old university student from Baghdad, who told Reuters she hoped to serve as a role model for Iraqi women.
"God willing, I will try to ignore (the criticism) because it is an honor to represent my country Iraq," she said after a screening interview at the al-Mada studios.
In similarly defiant vein, Hamsa Khalid, an 18-year-old high school student, said hostility would not deter her from taking part, adding that the message she hoped to deliver as Miss Iraq could be summed up in one word: "Peace."
According to Reuters, the first and last time Iraq participated in a major international beauty pageant was in 1972 when Wijdan Burhan al-Deen represented the country at the Miss Universe contest in Puerto Rico.
Iraqi social clubs have since hosted occasional contests, but by widening the applicant pool and registering with the government, organizers of this Miss Iraq contest hope the winner will once again qualify for prestigious international pageants.
They plan to send representatives to competitions in Egypt and Thailand. Judges are currently whittling down an applicant pool of 50 finalists to 10. The contestants will receive instruction in etiquette and public speaking and will volunteer to help some of the three million Iraqis displaced by fighting between the army and ISIS.