A defiant Saddam Hussein refused to give his name and challenged the legitimacy of the court, but then pleaded "not guilty" as he went on trial Wednesday for crimes against humanity allegedly committed two decades ago.
Grey-bearded and wearing a dark jacket over an open-necked white shirt, Saddam hectored the chief judge from his seat inside a white metal pen on the marble courtroom floor.
Asked his name by the judge, Saddam, 68, shot back: "You know me. You are an Iraqi and you know who I am.
"I won't answer to this so-called court...Who are you? What are you? The occupation is illegitimate," Saddam said. "I retain my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq."
The judge said: "You are Saddam Hussein al-Majid ... former president of Iraq", at which point Saddam raised his finger to interrupt, saying testily: "I did not say former president."
Shortly afterwards, the judge informed Saddam and his seven co-defendants that the charges included murder, torture and forced expulsion, saying that the crimes could carry the death penalty, and informed them of their rights, including that of a fair trial.
Asked to plead, each in turn, Saddam first, said: "Not guilty".
Saddam was the last to enter the courtroom as proceedings began shortly after midday (0900 GMT) and asked the jailers escorting him to slow down as he walked to his spot facing the panel of five judges.
Chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd, presided from a raised dais looking down on the defendants. Bronze-coloured scales of justice hung behind the judges. Of the judges, only Amin's face was shown on TV, and he conducted all questioning.
"This is the first session of case No 1, the case of Dujail," Amin told the court at the start, referring to the town where more than 140 men were killed following an attempt on Saddam's life on July 8, 1982.
Nearly two years after he was found hiding in a hole in the ground near where he was born, Saddam and seven other members of the former Baath Party are now on trial for those events.
If found guilty, Saddam could be hanged. Under tribunal statutes, any sentence should be carried out within 30 days of appeals being exhausted. That means Saddam could be executed before being tried on other charges such as genocide against the Kurds.
Saddam scuffled briefly with security guards as they tried to grab his arm to take him out of the court for a brief recess but he resisted, according to an AFP correspondent in the court.
The trial was later adjourned for more than a month, prosecutors told reporters. "It has been adjourned until November 28," one of the prosecutors said.
The chief judge said the main reason why the trial has been adjourned was because many witnesses were too afraid to turn up.
Amin said around 30 or 40 witnesses had not come to Baghdad for the trial. "They were too scared to be public witnesses. We're going to work on this issue for the next sessions."
Many Iraqis watched with relief as Saddam's trial began.
But others angrily dismissed the trial as a kangaroo court, declaring they did not recognize the US-backed case against a man who still proudly styles himself "the president of Iraq."
Saddam's trial was broadcast with a tape delay on major television stations in Iraq, giving Iraqis a first-hand glimpse of their former leader. In Baghdad and areas to the west, mortar rounds landed near US military bases, and in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, dozens of young men rallied and chanted in support of the ex-president.
Source: China Daily/AFP