After the three-hour hearing during which Saddam and his seven co-defendants were charged with the murder of 148 Shiite men, the chief judge adjourned the trial until after Nov. 28.
The judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who is Kurdish, told Reuters the main reason for the delay was that dozens of witnesses, some of them relatives of the men killed, had been afraid to testify.
Hussein remained testy and defiant throughout the proceedings, questioning the legitimacy of the court, which is partly funded and advised by the United States and dominated by ethnic groups he once oppressed. As he was led out of the courtroom, he angrily ordered two jailors not to hold his arms. He shoved one of them in the shoulder, and then they let him walk untouched.
Asked by the judge for his full name, Hussein, 68, shot back, “You know me. You are an Iraqi and you know who I am. I won’t answer to this so-called court. …Who are you? What are you? I retain my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq.”
The judge responded, “You are Saddam Hussein Al-Majid … former president of Iraq,” at which point Saddam raised his finger to interrupt, saying “I did not say former president.”
Hussein and the other defendants were charged with, among other things, murder, torture and forced expulsions.
Across Iraq, many were glad to finally see their former oppressor on trial.
In Dujail, resident Laith Abd Madai told Reuters, “This is the end of every tyrant. He hurt us, hurt my relatives and hurt my closest friends. Death is not enough for him.”
But in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, several young men protested the trial.
If found guilty, Saddam could be hanged.
Also on Wednesday, a U.S. soldier was killed and two were wounded in a town south of Baghdad. In the capital city, meanwhile, five Iraqi police were killed in two separate incidents and a leading figure in the Baghdad Journalists’ Union was shot dead.