Saddam Hussein arrived in chains at a palace complex once used by his inner circle for hunting, fishing and other pleasurable diversions.
By Martin Asser
BBC News Online
The ex-Iraqi leader was flown to the complex by helicopter and brought to the makeshift courtroom in an armoured bus, escorted by four US military vehicles and a military ambulance.
Unchained, Saddam was able to gesticulate at judges
The handcuffs, attached to a chain around his body, were then removed, dropping to the floor outside the courtroom with a clatter.
He was then taken inside by two imposing Iraqi prison guards, while six other guards waited outside.
With free hands, the former president was able to jab his finger aggressively at the judge when he became animated, during the half-hour hearing to read out the seven preliminary charges against him.
Dressed in a grey pin-striped suit and white shirt - and looking thinner than before - the ex-Iraqi leader was at times defiant and at times subdued.
But he was wholly different from the submissive and dishevelled prisoner last seen by the world when he was captured in December.
One of the few reporters allowed in the courtroom, from Qatari-based al-Jazeera TV, said that at first Saddam Hussein refused to reply when he was asked to confirm his name.
"Are you Saddam Hussein?" the judge said.
Looking indignantly at the court official he replied: "Yes, Saddam Hussein, the president of the Republic of Iraq."
The judge then repeated "Saddam Hussein al-Majid?" using the former leader's full name.
"Saddam Hussein, the president of the Republic of Iraq," repeated the man in the dock, emphatically. Throughout the hearing he refused being referred to as the "former Iraqi president".
And when asked where he lived, Saddam Hussein replied:"I live in every Iraqi house."
This obstreperous attitude during the initial exchange seemed to set the tone for the whole hearing.
"Under what law am I being tried here?" he asked the judge towards the end of the session.
When he was told that it was Iraqi justice, he mocked the judge and the proceedings.
Did he have a law certificate, the accused asked, and since when had he been recognised as a judge - before the occupation of Iraq or afterwards?
"Since the days of the previous regime until now," the judge replied, explaining that the former US-led occupation administration had asked him to hold the trial.
Saddam then laughed: "You are trying me by order of the invasion forces. By what law are you trying me?"
"I am trying you in accordance with the Iraqi law," the judge said.
"Then you are trying my by the law that I enacted," Saddam Hussein replied. "You are trying me by a law that I approved and ratified."
As the charges were read out, Saddam Hussein became enraged when the judge got to the section involving the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
"How can you as an Iraqi talk about the 'Iraqi invasion of Kuwait'?
"Kuwait is Iraqi territory. It was not an invasion."
"How could you defend those dogs? They were trying to turn Iraqi women into 10-dinar prostitutes" [by undercutting the price of Iraqi oil].
He was rebuked for using insulting language by the judge, who told him this was not permitted in a court of law.
At another point, the former president looked around smilingly at the court and remarked: "This is all a theatre. The real villain is Bush."
Regarding charges over the chemical weapons attack on the Kurds of Halabja in 1988, he said he had heard about such attacks during his rule "on television".
And again he mocked the court when asked if he wanted it to provide lawyers to defend him.
"But everyone says, the Americans say, I have millions of dollars stashed away in Geneva. Why shouldn't I afford a lawyer?"
Not surprisingly then, at the end of the arraignment Saddam Hussein refused to sign the list of charges against him until he had a defence lawyer present.
At which point the guards were told to take the prisoner away.
One of them hesitated, apparently not quite knowing what to do with this man who less than 18 months ago was an all-powerful tyrant who ruled Iraq with a rod of iron.
Eventually, he tucked his hands under Saddam Hussein's elbows and led him away.