The deposed Iraqi leader twice told the judge, "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq," according to a pool reporter present at the 30-minute arraignment in Baghdad.
Saddam faces charges for his reported involvement in seven crimes committed over three decades: invading Kuwait in 1990; suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991; "Anfal" ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds from 1987 to 1988; gassing Kurdish villagers in Halabja in 1988; killing political activists over 30 years; killing religious figures in 1974; killing thousands of the Kurdish Barzani clan in 1983, Reuters reported.
He refused to recognize that he was guilty of a crime in invading Kuwait, saying, "I did that for the Iraqi people. How can you defend these dogs?"
The judge admonished Saddam for his language, reminding him that he was in a court of law. Saddam answered, "This is all theater, the real criminal is [President] Bush."
The former leader also refused to sign the list of charges. "Please allow me not to sign until the lawyers are present. ... Anyhow, when you take a procedure to bring me here again, present me with all these papers with the presence of lawyers. Why would you behave in a manner that we might call hasty later on?" he said, according to the Associated Press.
A formal indictment with specific charges is expected later, said Salem Chalabi, director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Those are expected to include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The trial is not expected until 2005, the AP reported.
In his first public appearance in seven months, Saddam, 67, wore a dark gray suit, his gray and black beard was trimmed, and he appeared to have lost weight since his arrest in December.
He was brought by U.S. helicopter to a military base and then driven in an armored car to a makeshift courtroom in one of his former palaces near the Baghdad international airport.
The ousted leader and 11 of his top lieutenants were transferred to Iraqi legal custody Wednesday. They are no longer prisoners of war but still have American jailers.
Similar arraignments for his 11 former aides were expected later in the day.