By Edmund Blair
CAIRO (Reuters) - Arabs greeted the capture of Saddam Hussein with divided emotions Sunday, welcoming the arrest of a dictator yet tinged with regret that a symbol of Arab defiance against the United States was behind bars.
Some feared Saddam's capture would boost President Bush, who many Arabs believe has waged a campaign against them and other Muslims after the September 11 attacks. But others said the fight against U.S. occupation would go on.
"It is happy news but we wish it were the Iraqi people who had captured him, not U.S. troops, because this will give Bush a boost in the upcoming election," said Bahraini salesman Hussein Jafar as news of Saddam's capture swept through Arab capitals.
U.S. 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 Abdul-Nasser.
For others, the capture was disappointing news. 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 United States, which they said rode roughshod through the region.
"Of course it's bad news. To us, Saddam was a symbol of defiance to the U.S. plans in the region. And we support any person who stands in the face of the American dominance," said Azzam Hneidi, an Islamist member of Jordan's parliament.
KEEPING UP THE FIGHT
Others said the U.S. success might prove fleeting, saying Iraqis were not fighting for Saddam but for an end to the U.S. 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 Saeed Shabet, referring to Saddam's two sons.
In Gaza and the West Bank, where Palestinians are fighting against an Israeli occupation, some were in somber mood that the United States, perceived as providing unswerving support for Israel, could claim victory.
"It's a black day in history. I am 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 Fadiq Husam, a 33-year-old taxi driver in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
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. Others sent mobile phone messages to spread the news.
"We are so happy they got him...The people of Iraq have been brainwashed by the Saddam regime. They need another 20 years to realize that the Kuwaitis are not to blame for the Iraqis' plight," said Kuwaiti Mohammad al-Hudieb, cruising the Arabian Gulf seafront in his jeep.