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Iraq Transition

Idol TV show contestant unites war-weary Iraqis

Story Highlights

• Iraqi singer is one of four contestants still in the running on TV show
• Shada Hassoon's fans drumming up votes, hoping she'll win "Star Academy"
• One fan says it doesn't matter if Hassoon is Sunni or Shiite -- she's Iraqi
From Octavia Nasr, Saad Abedine and Joe Sterling
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Shada Hassoon, a charismatic and talented 26-year-old singer, is doing for Iraq what weary politicians in that strife-torn country have so far failed to do: unite the fractious nation.

Hassoon is a contestant representing Iraq on LBC's "Star Academy," a televised entertainment competition from Lebanon similar to "American Idol."

She has advanced all the way to the finals and is one of four contestants left.

On Friday, a winner will be announced, and Hassoon stands a solid chance of winning, in part because Iraqis have embraced her and are expected to vote for her in droves.

"You deserve it, you are the star," one fan wrote to Hassoon in a comment on the Al-Arabiya network's Web site.

"I wish upon all Iraqis abroad and inside Iraq to vote for Shada, and I wish that all of them unite, and I would like to say one word to the Arabs and the entire world that Iraqis are brethren no matter what sect or confession they belong to," the writer added.

Hassoon has mixed national heritage. She was born in Morocco to an Iraqi father and a Moroccan mother.

But she is regarded as an Iraqi because nationality is based on her father's country.

She identifies herself as an Iraqi national and says her dream since childhood has been "to represent my country, Iraq, in arts."

"We voted for Shada without asking if she were a Shiite or a Sunni," Hicham Mahmoud Alaazami said on the Al-Arabiya Web site. "We voted for her just because she is an Iraqi."

Hassoon has been the object of attention in Arabic-language media in Iraq and across the Arab world.

'Bring joy to the Iraqis' broken hearts'

"Salma the Sudanese" wrote on Al-Arabiya's Web site that "Shada Hassoon is a great human being and a perfect artist. God willing, she will be the star and bring joy to the Iraqis' broken hearts."

Salma thinks the singer will bring more happiness to the Iraqis than the Arab summit this week, "because the Arab summit is nothing but a show and a photo opportunity, nothing else."

Hassoon's efforts have shared space on Iraqi newspaper front pages with the daily insurgent attacks, and one Iraqi TV channel is urging Iraqis to "vote for the daughter of the Euphrates."

Some fans have launched Web sites to support her quest to win.

One Web message from a college student said "we need to collect donations from the students so we can buy cell phone units cards in order to vote for Shada. I am working on an ad that I can post in the university campus. Before I do, can you please send me the correct way to vote for Shada via text messages?"

In an LBC profile, Hassoon says she joined "Star Academy" because she loves art and the show and "because it will educate me in the artistic domain, not to mention fame."

Many people believe star power has its limits. Mohammed Amer Zakaria wrote Al-Arabiya that he believes "Iraqis can find something else that can unite them besides 'Star Academy.'"

But Zeina, in her Al-Arabiya posting, is more reflective of the Shada-mania throughout Iraq. She begs everyone "despite the sad circumstances in Iraq, please vote for our daughter Shada, the daughter of the two rivers."

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Iraqis are uniting to vote for Shada Hassoon, pictured here on the Web site of "Star Academy."



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