Iraq kicked off its first-ever international flower festival on Wednesday with the hope of showing the world that peace is blossoming after the winter of a long war.
The festival in central Baghdad's massive Al-Zawra park featured landscaping exhibits from several Iraqi townships and governorates in addition to international delegations from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and France.
"We want to send a message that Iraq is a country that is interested in love and peace," municipal council spokesman Hakim Abdel Zahra told AFP. "The time of violence and fear is over now."
In the last two years, US and Iraq forces have allied with local tribes and one-time insurgents to bring calm to large swathes of the country that were plunged into violent chaos after the 2003 US-led invasion.
But international businessmen have been slow to return to the country, and several international booths were empty on the opening evening of the festival.
"It's more symbolic than economic," said Serge Mouhedin, the CEO of three flower companies and an agricultural supplies company in France. He came at the urging of friends he made on a visit to Iraq's Kurdistan region 15 years ago.
"It is important for people to see that Iraq is not just the war," he said. "The businessmen have to come back."
But for Jean-Marie Zimmermann, another member of the French delegation, the festival was an opportunity to market a product that he felt sure would appeal to Iraqis -- vegetation fences.
"It's not only a question of ecology, it's also extremely efficient," he says as he gestures to a small model fence of thorn stems woven into arches. "The last jail we did in France is surrounded only by this," he said.
"No one tries to escape for two reasons. The first is that they are not surrounded by a wall so they feel better, and the second is that they know they cannot cross."
Zimmermann happily scurried around the park, eagerly smiling and shaking hands with everyone from the delegates from the Iranian city of Isfahan to the young Iraqi police recruits lazily guarding the exhibits.
"I said to the French embassy that I would like to meet people involved in all kinds of security, in Baghdad as well as in military areas," he said. "But I prefer to provide security to Baghdad, green security."
Zawra Park reopened in July 2008, more than five years after the invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It features a zoo, swimming pool and a promenade which is particularly popular during religious and national holidays.