Baghdad was inaugurated as the 2013 Arab Capital of Culture on Saturday, the latest in a series of steps which officials hope will put Iraq back on the map after decades of conflict.
Iraqi dancers perform at the al-Khaima theater in Zawraa Park in Baghdad during the opening night of three days of celebrations to mark Baghdad as this year’s Capital of Arab Culture, on March 23, 2013. Photo: AFP/ Ahmad Al-Rubaye
The ceremony marking the event was held under a massive tent in the Iraqi capital's Zawraa Park, and featured a choir singing songs and a performance by renowned Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma, as well as speeches by senior Iraqi politicians and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
The events surrounding the Arab Capital of Culture will include music and dance performances, photography exhibitions, as well as folk arts and crafts shows.
"Baghdad, which was a source of knowledge for the entire world, is rising again today thanks to the efforts of Iraqis and their Arab brothers," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a speech.
It is the latest in a series of efforts by Iraq to raise its global profile after three decades of war and sanctions which led to its international isolation, economically as well as culturally.
The city hosted the Arab League summit in 2012, and later that year was the site of talks between global powers and Iran on the Islamic Republic's controversial nuclear programme.
It is also scheduled to host football's Gulf Cup in 2015.
Iraq's efforts have not gone off without a hitch, however.
It had been scheduled to host the Gulf Cup this year but it was delayed, and ambitious plans for the Shiite shrine city of Najaf to take over as the 2012 Islamic Capital of Culture were shelved as several projects failed to get off the ground or were postponed indefinitely amid accusations of corruption.