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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 14:46 GMT
Saddam denounces 'comedy' court
Saddam Hussein in court
Saddam Hussein says he is still the leader of Iraq
Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has begun his first formal defence at his trial for crimes against humanity by describing the court as a "comedy".

The judge closed the hearing to the public after Saddam Hussein called on the Iraqi people to "resist invaders".

Saddam Hussein and seven co-accused are being prosecuted over the deaths of 148 people in the Shia village of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt.

Earlier, his former spy chief denied any involvement in the deaths.

Saddam Hussein appeared in court wearing a dark suit, without a tie.

'Political speech'

He said he had been pained after recently hearing of "something that aims to harm our people".

"My conscience tells me that the great people of Iraq have nothing to do with these acts," he said, in an apparent reference to the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra that triggered a series of sectarian clashes.

When Judge Raouf Abdul Rahman chastised Saddam Hussein for using the trial as a political platform, he replied: "I am the head of state."

The judge answered: "You used to be a head of state. You are a defendant now."

Saddam Hussein continued, warning Iraqis against further sectarian attacks, saying: "You will live in darkness and rivers of blood for no reason."

He praised the insurgency as "the resistance to the American invasion".

Before closing the session to the public, Judge Abdel Rahman told Saddam Hussein: "You are being tried in a criminal case. Stop your political speech."

Saddam Hussein answered: "Had it not been for politics, I wouldn't be here."

His trial has been adjourned until 5 April.

'Forged signature'

Earlier in court, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother and former spy chief, answered questions about the deaths in Dujail.

He said he had chided security forces for making unnecessary arrests in Dujail and had ordered many detainees to be freed.

"I shook their [the detainees'] hands and let them go," he said.

He said he had visited Dujail immediately after the attempt on Saddam Hussein's life and never again after that.

The response to the assassination attempt was handled by a government agency that was not under his control, Mr Tikriti said.

Residents of Dujail have testified in earlier sessions that Mr Tikriti personally tortured them during the security sweep that followed the assassination attempt.

Mr Tikriti was shown a document, dated 21 August 1982 and apparently signed by him, which calls for intelligence officers involved in the Dujail crackdown to be rewarded.

He denied the signature on the document was his, saying it had been forged.

Mr Tikriti argued that the execution of the villagers of Dujail was justified, as they had all taken part in the attempt on Saddam Hussein's life - at a time when the country was at war with Iran.

'US mistreatment'

The former Iraqi leader and his co-accused face the death penalty if convicted for crimes against humanity.

All deny the charges against them.

Previous trial sessions have been halted by protests from the defendants.

Mr Tikriti has in the past appeared in the court wearing long underwear to show his disdain for the US-backed trial process.

In court on Wednesday, he wore a red-chequered Arab head-dress and a long shirt.

He also alleged he had been mistreated by US forces since his capture in 2003.

His US interrogators had asked him "how Osama Bin Laden came to Iraq" and "dozens of such questions with imaginary bases and assumptions".


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