They got him - but people around the world viewed what they got through sharply different lenses.
Across the globe, people in countries allied with the US lauded the capture of Saddam Hussein from a subterranean spiderhole as a major feat for international justice and the struggle to stabilize Iraq.
But others - particularly in neighboring Arab countries - saw the fallen Iraqi dictator's arrest as an event that would not necessarily bring an end to the violent Iraqi resistance to the US-led occupation, and which could further exacerbate Arab resentment toward the West.
Most likely, though, the startling images of an unshaven, unkempt Mr. Hussein, which Sunday played incessantly on television screens worldwide, would serve as a warning message to the Middle East's many less-than-democratic leaders: Those who wind up atop Washington's target list for regime change should not expect to escape justice.
"The Arab governments are in deep trouble now," says Hisham Kassem, the chairman of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights in Cairo. "None of them want to see the stabilization of a democratic Iraq. Then they will have to ask the question, who is No. 2? While Saddam Hussein is a psychopath, when it comes to governance every other regime in the region runs the same kind of dictatorship."
Since the disappearance of Hussein and his regime eight months ago, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran have frequently been singled out as countries which either oppress their citizens on as disturbing a level as the Iraqi regime did, or which are engaged in acquiring illegal weapons of mass destruction.
In Saudi Arabia, normal events almost ground to a standstill as news of Hussein's capture spread. At the Maglis As-Shura, a consultative council, which advises the ruling Saudi royal family, members' cellphones jangled nonstop and they passed furtive notes across the table about the startling arrest near Tikrit, Hussein's hometown.
"It's a wonderful moment," says Abdulmuhsin al-Akkas, a member of the council. "I would imagine now the insurgents and the resistance mainly conducted by agents loyal to Saddam Hussein will decline, if not be cut off completely. My feeling is that the major components of the remnants of the previous administration will be cut or completely eliminated. But Iraq is still not at peace with itself. This is a major step - the accomplishment today - but there is still no functioning government by the Iraqi people and accepted by the Iraqi people."
That and more has kept many critics of the US-led invasion frustrated with the postwar period, and Hussein's capture is not likely to change that sentiment.
"I didn't think Saddam Hussein would be captured like this. It is not a good thing for Iraqis," says Rokaya, a young Saudi woman in Riyadh, her pretty eyes peering out from a shroud of black that covered the rest of her face and body. "I think it was better for them before - when Saddam was there. It doesn't matter to people here - we only listen to the news because we want to know what the Americans are doing [to Iraq]. We care for the Iraqi people."
In most corners of the Arab world, emotions were mixed. The elation of bringing an infamous tyrant to justice was often tinged with nostalgia for a rare regional leader who blatantly thumbed his nose at America, viewed by many Muslims as a bullying empire.
"Saddam helped the Palestinians when he attacked Israel, so we like him for that, and for standing up to the US," says Makhmud Faiz, who works in a music shop in Cairo. "Every Arab is sad he has been captured."
Well, not every one. Across Iraq, people broke into celebrating, singing and shooting guns in the air. A Lebanese businessman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, says that Saddam's capture is good news "for the Americans, the Iraqis, and the Arabs" - but that it won't necessarily have the desired effect of dismantling an insurgency movement which is launching regular attacks on US and other coalition forces in Iraq.
"I don't think it will change a lot in Iraq. I don't think [Hussein] has much to do with what is going on in Iraq now," says Rabih Elamine, a rotund man with wire-rimmed glasses who works for a British publishing company. "Probably more people will join the resistance now," he says, which is driven more by anger against the US occupation than loyalty to Saddam Hussein.
For many Iraqis around the world, particularly those who went into exile under Hussein's regime, sentiments were far less ambivalent.
"We are very very happy. The entire community is happy. We are going to celebrate with fireworks," Professor Nadir Ahmad, a member of the group Iraqi Exiles in the UK, told the wire services.
"This is a big day for Iraqi people all over the world and marks the turning point in the history of our country," said Mr. Ahmad. "This should improve security in Iraq, as many people still believed he was waiting to come back."
In Russia, people saw parallels to the war in Chechnya, and predicted that catching Hussein was not equal to winning the war. On Saturday, about half the men who had been recruited to serve in a newly formed Iraqi army quit, demanding better than the $150 a month being offered by the US.
"I'm sure the fighting will continue in Iraq just the same way it does in Chechnya. Russian forces killed [Chechen independence leader Dzokhar] Dudayev, but nothing stopped," says Alexander Fabrichnev, a driver in Moscow. "Iraq will go on the same way as long as the Americans are there."
Irina Shorikhina, a teacher, agreed. "Saddam Hussein wasn't the main symbol of the Iraqi nation, and the resistance to American occupation isn't about Saddam. The Americans want to control the oil of Iraq, spread their influence in the region and introduce democracy according to their understanding of the word. As long as they keep doing this, the struggle against them will continue."
Countries like France, Germany, and Russia offered kudos. The congratulatory words were particularly noteworthy given the recent rancor over the Bush Administration's refusal to allow those countries to bid for contracts in the postwar rebuilding phase. President Bush last week defended that policy, saying he thought people understood that only those countries who supported the US-led invasion should be able to partake in the reconstruction.
"It's with great delight that I learned of Saddam Hussein's capture," Chancellor Gerhard Schröder wrote in a letter to Mr. Bush. "I congratulate you on this successful operation. Saddam Hussein caused horrible suffering to his people and the region. I hope the capture will help the international community's effort to rebuild and stabilize Iraq."
Parisians reacted to the news with a mixture of sentiments. Librarian Patrick Flaverney was skeptical that it really was Hussein. "I still have a doubt," he said. "I know that he had a few doubles."
Romaric Sangars, a poet, says that while symbolically the capture was important, "it doesn't justify the war, because it was not about capturing Saddam Hussein but about weapons [of mass destruction]." Still, he says, "whether you were for or against the war, at least [the Americans] followed through by capturing him."
Observers around the world began to speculate what the parameters for bringing Hussein to justice would be. Just last week, the US-appointed Governing Council in Baghdad passed guidelines for an Iraqi Special Tribunal, which would have jurisdiction over crimes committed by the Iraqi regime since Hussein's rise to power in 1968.
"I hope they try him before an international court. I think it's important for the world to see that," says Birgit Eggert, a housewife from Hamburg, Germany.
Falk Metrophan, a Berlin student and supporter of the invasion of Iraq, says the arrest would bring hope to ordinary Iraqis. "I think the myth of Saddam has finally been shattered," he says.
Beyond the questions of how Hussein will be tried, analysts say that the next big test will be whether or not the Iraqi resistance will really be cracked - or at least demoralized - by Hussein's capture.
"I think the capture of Saddam is good news, regardless of whether one supported the American invasion of Iraq or not," says Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs columnist with the liberal daily Kommersant. "Now, many things will start to become much clearer. For instance, a major question is whether the resistance will end with Saddam's capture or not?" he says. "The Americans have claimed that it was all organized by Saddam and a few holdovers of his regime. If there is a real decline in guerrilla attacks now, the Americans will be proven right. But if the resistance continues after Saddam is out of the picture, it will become apparent that the opponents of American occupation are much more broadly-based than previously thought."
In Japan, the news of Hussein's capture was viewed by some as a hopeful sign that the spiral of anti-Coalition violence in Iraq might be halted in time for the arrival of Japanese troops. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi just last week approved a basic plan for the deployment of Japan's Self Defense Forces to Iraq. According to local media reports, the air force is likely to be dispatched by the end of December and ground troops by as early as March.
"A lot of people here have criticized Bush's actions in Iraq - this news doesn'tmean the terrorism is over," says Masayoshi Yoshinaga, a bar manager incentral Tokyo. "Japanese people are basically antiwar, so I don't think this news really changes the critical view Japanese have [of the Iraq war]."
Written by Ilene R. Prusher. Reported by staff writers Faye Bowers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Scott Peterson in Tehran, Iran, Cameron Barr in Jerusalem, and correspondents Gretchen Peters in Cairo, Mark Rice Oxley in London, Fred Weir in Moscow, Andreas Tzortzis in Berlin, Terrence Murray in Paris, and Bennett Richardson in Tokyo.