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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Defiant Saddam appears in court
Footage of Saddam Hussein in court
Saddam: Both defiant and downcast
Iraq's ex-leader Saddam Hussein has made a defiant first appearance before an Iraqi judge, branding President George W Bush as the "real criminal".

He defended Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, said he was still president and rejected the court's jurisdiction.

He arrived in handcuffs and chains at the court near Baghdad airport to hear charges of war crimes and genocide.

TV pictures of the hearing were released to international broadcasters shortly after the hearing finished.

I am Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq

The images - cleared for broadcast by the US military - were the first of Saddam Hussein since his capture in December. They showed Iraq's former president looking thin, haggard and with a trimmed, grey beard.

Saddam Hussein, described by reporters at the hearing as both defiant and downcast, denounced the proceedings as "theatre" and questioned the validity of the law he was to be tried under.

"I am Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq," he replied when asked to confirm his identity at the hearing, which took place inside one of his former palaces, now a sprawling US base.

Anfal campaign against Kurds, late 1980s
Gassing Kurds in Halabja, 1988
Invasion of Kuwait , 1990
Crushing Kurdish and Shia rebellions after 1991 Gulf War
Killing political activists over 30 years
Massacring members of Kurdish Barzani tribe in 1980s
Killing religious leaders, 1974

The BBC's Arab affairs analyst, Magdi Abdelhadi, says this is the first time an Arab ruler has appeared before a judge to face charges related to abuse of power and the brutal oppression of his own people.

He says it is an historic moment not only for Iraq but for the entire region.

Ousted Arab rulers were usually either summarily executed or forced to flee the country, he adds.

Saddam rebuked

Seven preliminary charges were read out to Saddam Hussein, including accusations over the campaign against the Kurds in the 1980s, which included the use of chemical weapons in Halabja, and the suppression of Kurdish and Shia uprisings after the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraqis cannot be victims and at the same time juries
John Upindi, Namibia

Hearing the charge relating to Halabja, where about 5,000 Kurdish civilians died in a single day, Saddam Hussein said, "Yes, I heard about that."

He became most agitated when he was accused of invading Kuwait in 1990.

"How can you, as an Iraqi, say the 'invasion of Kuwait' when Kuwait is part of Iraq?" he asked the judge, whose face was not shown on the film and whose identity is being kept secret for security reasons.

He said he invaded Kuwait "for the Iraqi people" and referred to Kuwaitis as "dogs", for which he was rebuked by the judge.

Saddam Hussein refused at the end to sign legal papers confirming that he had been read his rights and understood the case against him, saying he wanted his lawyer in court.

He was then taken back to jail, while the charges were read out one-by-one against the 11 other accused.

These include former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Ali Hasan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his alleged role in poison gas attacks, who were formally transferred from US to Iraqi custody on Wednesday.

Defence concerns

Saddam Hussein's lawyers have already challenged the court's legitimacy.

One member of his 20-strong defence team, Mohammed Rashdan, told the BBC's Today programme that they had been denied access to their client.

Tariq Aziz - Deputy PM
Taha Yassin Ramadan - Vice-President
Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tal - Defence Minister
Abid Hamid al-Tikrit - Presidential secretary
Ali Hasan al-Majid - "Chemical Ali"
Watban Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti - Saddam Hussein's half-brother - Intelligence Minister

He also alleged that they had received death threats from the Iraqi government.

Iraq's new national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, has insisted the process will not be a show trial.

"As an Iraqi interim government, we promise our people and the Arab world and the outside world, we promise that Saddam will stand a fair trial," he said in a BBC interview.

The interim Iraqi government has restored the death penalty, which was suspended by the US-led coalition.

Mr Rubaie said Saddam Hussein could face execution if convicted.

The full trials may not get under way until next year as many issues still need to be resolved and could take months or even years.

Witness protection

The BBC's Christian Frasier in Baghdad says there are concerns in Iraq that crucial evidence has still to be gathered.

The Coalition Provisional Authority has identified more than 250 mass graves, but as yet there have been no full forensic exhumations and investigations are being hampered by the lack of security on the ground.

Our correspondent says without a system in place to gather statements and protect those who come forward there are fears that many valuable witnesses will be lost.

But the interim Iraqi government has dismissed such concerns, insisting that the evidence is already overwhelming, as Saddam Hussein's regime was meticulous in recording the most minute details of abuses carried out.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"For many Iraqis, there was satisfaction seeing Saddam in court"

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