Defiant Saddam Hussein Wednesday challenged the legitimacy of the US-backed court and pleaded not guilty over charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Dujail massacre in 1982.
Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin ordered adjournment until Nov. 28 after Adnan al-Dulaimi, Saddam's lawyer, requested a three-month postponement.
The long-awaited trial began shortly after 12:00 p.m. (0900 GMT), two hours after the scheduled time, when Saddam, wearing a suit and accompanied by guards, appeared in the courtroom in the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad.
His seven co-defendants were wearing traditional Arab clothes.
Saddam, 68, refused to give his name while being asked to answer questions from the panel of five judges led by Chief Judge Amin, a Kurd in his late 40s from the northern city of Sulaimaniyah.
The judges have received training in international criminal law in Britain, the Netherlands and Italy. The United States has allocated 75 million US dollars to support the investigations.
"I don't acknowledge either the entity that authorizes you nor the aggression because everything based on falsehood is false," Saddam said, describing himself as "president of Iraq."
"I don't recognize this court nor the party which appointed it, " Saddam defied. "What was built on injustice is invalid."
When a break was called, Saddam stood, smiling, and asked to step out of the room. When two guards tried to grab his arms to escort him out, he angrily shook them off. In the end, Saddam was allowed to walk independently, with the two guards behind him.
Saddam ruled Iraq from 1968 to 2003 before he was toppled by the US-led forces in April 2003 and captured by US troops in December of that year.
After being kept in US custody for nearly two years, Saddam now faces charges over ordering the killing of 143 Shiites in Dujail, some 60 km north of Baghdad, in 1982. The order came after a group of Shiites failed in an assassination attempt on Saddam's life.
If convicted, the ousted strongman and his seven aides could face the death penalty.
Iraqis and much of the Arab world, including Saddam's relatives, watched intently the televised coverage of the hearing, though sound was cut out frequently and the picture went blank several times.
In Amman, Saddam Hussein's eldest daughter Raghad branded the trial as a "farce" and said his father behaved like a "lion" during the proceedings.
"It's up to you to make up your mind about what you saw (but) the people's verdict has already been reached on this farce. End of story," she told Arabic television station Al-Arabiya from the Jordanian capital.
"Saddam is a hero and he will remain a hero and when thugs speak they should describe themselves," she said.
In Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Arab Liberation Front expressed its sympathy with the former strongman and called on the Palestinian people to reject the trial.
The group said in a statement that the trial in Iraq is "illegal" and "Saddam is the legal and elected president of Iraq."
It called for the release of Saddam and condemned any attempt to hurt him, adding that Saddam played an important role in the Palestinian question, supporting the Palestinian intifada.
In London, one of Saddam's lawyers called the trial in Baghdad "pure theater" and said a 40-day adjournment to prepare a defence was not enough.
"If this was a regular murder trial at the Old Bailey in London then the defence would have been granted six months to prepare," Abdel al Haq al-Ani, the lawyer coordinating the defence effort, told reporters.
"The Americans are intent on making this pure theater, a show trial," he said.
Meanwhile in Washington, US President George W. Bush believed that Saddam Hussein's trial will meet "basic standards of international law" and hoped that it will help heal Iraq, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan said at a press briefing.
"This is another important step in building a new and democratic Iraq based on the rule of law. And I think the trial is a symbol that the rule of law is returning to Iraq," McClellan said.
However, some critics and human rights groups have warned that Saddam and his top aides may not be able to get a fair trial.
On other developments in Iraq, Saddam Hussein's nephew was arrested by the Iraqi army in Saddam's hometown Tikrit Tuesday night, an army source told Xinhua Wednesday.
"Yasir Sabawi, who is wanted by the Iraqi government, was caught on Tuesday night for the demonstration that supported Saddam in Tikrit," the source said.
Just hours ahead of Wednesday's trial, two mortar rounds landed on Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone but caused no injuries, an Interior Ministry told Xinhua.
But in other areas in Iraq, some 26 people were killed in a series of bombings. The coalition also said that two soldiers were killed, one American, the other British, in attacks Tuesday night.