Beats replace bombs: young Iraqis revel at summer festival

Baghdad (AFP) - Hundreds of Iraqi teenagers clapped along exuberantly to techno beats pumping across a makeshift dance hall on Friday night, a scene their capital had not witnessed in decades.

Neon red, yellow and white stage lights helped transform the basketball court in the People's Stadium in central Baghdad into a club for the "Summer Festival", the first celebration of its kind in the city.

The party started at noon with a car show: classic cars, souped-up four-wheelers and motorcycles with proud owners revving their engines.

As the DJ took the stage, boys and girls alike swayed and sang along to Western tunes, alternated with popular Iraqi hits.

Though there were only a few young women among the 1,000 or so revellers, their presence was notable in a country where public spaces remain conservative.

"I love this type of music," said Layan, a 19-year-old woman in a leather black top and full makeup.

"I hear a lot of people say that we're influenced by the West. Fine, there's no difference to me -- the important thing is I don't have to listen to this music at home in secret anymore," she said, pumping her fist into the air.

Just a few years ago, the sound of staccato gunfire or the echo of car bombs was more common in Baghdad than the resounding bass of electronic music.

Iraq has been hit by nearly four decades of conflict, from a devastating war with Iran in the 1980s to the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sectarian warfare followed, then the onslaught of the Islamic State group in 2014, only defeated territorially in late 2017.

Friday's festival was the latest indication that Iraq is entering a phase of relative stability, with blast walls and checkpoints coming down across the capital.

Restaurants are again abuzz with families and coffee shops full of young people watching cover bands late into the night, something that not so long ago was considered too dangerous because of the risk of suicide bombers.