- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

As Iraqis fired off guns in the streets of Baghdad to celebrate the capture of Saddam Hussein, expatriate banker Rubar Sandi ran shouting outside his Bethesda home in his pajamas and stamped the word “FREE” in the new-fallen snow.

“This is the capture of living hell,” he said, alternating between tears and laughter. “Now the Iraqi people now can see that this is over; now they can say ‘I’m OK’ and go forward.”

“I do congratulate the American forces and the Iraqi people. God bless America and God bless the soldiers.”

For Mr. Sandi, the 50-year-old chairman and CEO of CorporateBank, Saddam’s capture marked the end of a personal nightmare — celebrated first at home, then in a small coffee shop in Bethesda.

For years, Mr. Sandi had opposed the dictator, starting as a Kurdish student in Iraq 30 years ago. Both he and his family paid a heavy price for his dissent.

“I remember them coming in and beating my father,” said Mr. Sandi, as he recalled the years of pain that he and thousands of other Kurds suffered under Saddam.

As a young man, he was repeatedly dragged to prison and beaten. When he fought in a failed Kurdish uprising and escaped, his younger brother was tortured with cigarette burns.

“Look at the man who did all these things. He is nothing but a coward,” Mr. Sandi said after pictures of the bedraggled former dictator were flashed on television.

“The darkest page of Iraqi history is finally coming to an end,” he said, elatedly answering calls from business partners around the country and from Iraq. “This is the gift of life for the Iraqi people, the rebirth of every Iraqi.”

Mr. Sandi was among a number of Iraqi Americans who rushed back to Baghdad after the war to invest in the reconstruction of the country. His optimism had been shaken after months of terrorist attacks and the stalled efforts of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to get the country back on its feet.

He warned that the upheaval in Iraq would not end with Saddam’s capture. The insurgents, he predicted, would increase their attacks to try and prove that their fight was bigger than just Saddam.

“But eventually, once it sinks in with the Iraqi people that that man is gone … they will stop fighting, and the ones who collaborated with the insurgents will stop and they will start working with the coalition forces and themselves.”

It was crucial, Mr. Sandi added, that the American-led forces and administration grab the momentum with a huge push to get the country running, provide jobs and rebuild the shattered society.

Mr. Sandi is already planning to fly back to Iraq this week to check on his businesses and see his family.

“This is the greatest chance to recapture the energy and just build on it,” he said. “This is a gift from heaven to the coalition and to the Iraqi people.”

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