At 4:30 p.m. Thursday along Painter's Street, Raad Mufid stepped from the Abu Ali Gallery and purposefully darted from one door to the next on the quiet alley.

"Now they are showing it -- Saddam Hussein on television," Mufid said as he poked his head into a paint-soaked storefront where Jawad Kadhum and Jamal Hindawi were stenciling signs for the Baghdad Boiler Repair Co.

The men rose, leaving their work and cups of tea. They headed next door, where the only television on the small street sat on a desk in a corner. Lavish oil paintings of galloping horses, veiled women and idealized Arabian landscapes covered the walls. A few men gathered.

The small screen filled with Hussein's eyes, then the camera panned back to show his gray-specked beard, dark blazer over a white, open-collar shirt and arms waving in the air. It was the first time the men had seen their former president, feared by some of them for years, as a criminal defendant.

"I didn't want to see such a person in such a scene," said Kadhum, a bespectacled 60-year-old who opened his store in the Karrada district in 1979, the same year Hussein became president. "It makes me feel sad."

Hindawi, 40, interrupted his employer.

"For him, yes. Not for me," he said. "When I see him, I think this is less than what he deserves. But I feel that now we are a country again, we have laws, and we are following them. Before, with him, we had none."

"When I say I feel sad, it doesn't mean I like him," Kadhum responded in a rising debate. "We suffered under this man, but he was a symbol of Iraq when it was an effective country. Now it's finished."

The courtroom tableau broadcast Thursday afternoon provoked a mix of emotions from everyday Iraqis: curiosity, joy, triumph and uneasy nostalgia.

Hussein's appearance, the first since his arrest in December, prompted some Iraqis to say they hoped for the perfect post-trial punishment. Even more succumbed to eye-rubbing astonishment at the sight of their defiant, graying dictator, who used the airwaves nightly to advertise his omnipotence, ranting from a witness stand.

Coming just three days after an Iraqi government assumed limited political power from the U.S.-led occupation authority, the view of Hussein in a defendant's dock also appeared to encourage many Iraqis to imagine a country more in their hands than ever.

"He was a symbol for every bad thing in this country," said Hindawi, peering through wire-rimmed glasses in his studio. "We hope by judging him that this will be the end of all the bad things and the start of something else."

Ali Mohan, 33, missed the video clip when it first appeared on the al-Arabiya satellite network. But he hurried across the alley from the Abu Ali Gallery to catch it the next time it ran, which it did through much of the night.

Mohan could hardly contain his delight when Hussein's face appeared at his arraignment. Asked what was making him shift from foot to foot and smile, Mohan said it was a feeling of triumph.

"I will win, I will be the victor, if this man can become like this," said Mohan, a member of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, which endured some of the worst abuses of Hussein's Sunni-led government.

One charge against Hussein concerns his brutal suppression of the 1991 Shiite uprising, encouraged by the United States after the Persian Gulf War. Thousands of Shiites were killed, including many from Mohan's home town of Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. Their bodies have turned up in mass graves discovered since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and they will be used as evidence in the trial to come.

"If all of Iraq wanted to paint a scene, it wouldn't be able to match this. Only God could do this," Mohan said, still smiling. "His sons were killed, and he was alive to see it. They found him in a hole. And now he is in this court. It is the most beautiful scene."

The nature of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, an entirely U.S.-financed enterprise, and the likely fairness of the trial did not raise a ripple of concern on a day when spectacle outweighed legal rules for many Iraqis.

Many jumped right to the punishment phase. Iraq's interim president, Ghazi Yawar, said the previous day that Iraq would reinstate the death penalty in light of the trial of Hussein and 11 of his chief lieutenants, who also were charged Wednesday.

Abed Hashem Noor, 33, recalled while watching Hussein on the screen how he once boasted that he had taught Iraqis how to wear shoes. Noor preferred, as a result of Hussein's past arrogance, a punishment other than death.

"If he's executed, it will feel like a rest for him," said Noor, a painter from Baghdad. "We want him to be put somewhere, locked up, so that he can see how well Iraqis live without him."

"When this is finished, and he gets what he deserves, then we'll celebrate," Noor added.

Each of the men, nearly all of them Shiites, said that at least one relative had been imprisoned or disappeared under Hussein's authoritarian rule. Some noted with glee the way they expressed their opinion Thursday -- loudly and without care.

"What you are hearing now from us were the same things we'd say when Saddam was here," Hindawi said. "But never in public."

Seated on a stool, Hussein Ali, 29, painted a sunlit landscape of reed homes amid clear-blue pools. Ali had moved his easel from his studio to watch the television.

Ali's father had once told a story on a neighborhood doorstep about seeing Hussein Kamel, a top general and one of Saddam's sons-in-law, at a local discotheque. Kamel had insulted a number of women, his father said, and the story ended there. Soon after, Ali said, his father was taken away by the Iraqi police and jailed for more than two years for telling his story.

Ali watched the screen more quietly than his friends and had only one sensation as the videotape played on.

"I feel relieved," he said.

Iraqis in a Baghdad coffee shop stare at a television to watch ousted president Saddam Hussein's arraignment.