Some fear Saddam's capture will boost President George Bush, who many Arabs believe has waged a campaign against them and other Muslims after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

But others said the fight against US occupation would go on.

"It is happy news but we wish it were the Iraqi people who had captured him, not [US] troops, because this will give Bush a boost in the upcoming election," said Bahraini salesman Husayn Jafar as news of Saddam's capture swept through Arab capitals.

US troops captured Saddam, grubby and bearded, when he was dug out by troops from a narrow hiding hole during a raid on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit.

"I only wish it was not the Americans who got him. I don't like Saddam but as an Arab I wouldn't like to see them (Americans) dragging him around Baghdad," said Syrian student Abd al-Nasir.

Symbol of defiance

Saddam may have been seen as a dictator who oppressed his people, but many also saw him as the only Arab leader who stood up to the US, which they said rode roughshod through the region.

Many Shias, who often suffered
under Saddam, are delighted

"Of course it's bad news. To us, Saddam was a symbol of defiance to the US plans in the region. And we support any person who stands in the face of the American dominance," said Azzam Hinaidi, an Islamist member of Jordan's parliament.

Others said the US success might prove fleeting, saying Iraqis were not fighting for Saddam, but for an end to the US occupation of Iraq.

"The situation in Iraq will not change much. I don't think the resistance was linked to Saddam and it will increase as was the case after the death of Uday and Qusay," said Yemeni political analyst Said Shabat, referring to Saddam's two sons.

In Gaza and the West Bank, where Palestinians are fighting against Israeli occupation, some were in sombre mood that Israel's main backer could claim victory.

"It's a black day in history. I'm saying so not because Saddam is an Arab but because he is the only man who said 'no' to American injustice in the Middle East," said Sadiq Husam, a 33-year-old taxi driver in the West Bank city of Ram Allah.

Repercussions

A senior official of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, Nafiz Azam, said he expected Iraqi resistance to continue.

"Iraqi people are fighting for freedom and there is not just one person behind this resistance"

Nafiz Azam,
Islamic Jihad

"The Americans fabricated the notion to the whole world that Saddam was behind the entire Iraqi resistance. But the coming days will prove the Iraqi people are fighting for freedom and there is not just one person behind this resistance."

But in Kuwait, occupied by Iraq in 1990-1991, the reaction was one of joy. Some cars honked horns along a seaside road that during the occupation had been lined with Iraqi army positions.

"We are so happy they got him," said Kuwaiti Muhammad al-Hudiab, cruising the Arabian Gulf seafront in his jeep.

"The people of Iraq have been brainwashed by the Saddam regime. They need another 20 years to realise that the Kuwaitis are not to blame for the Iraqis' plight."