BAGHDAD, Iraq—Hopes that a new judge in the Saddam Hussein trial would lead to fewer outbursts, shouting matches and theatrics vanished in the opening minutes of Sunday's session when the entire defense team and the four most prominent defendants, including Saddam, walked out.
The session proceeded without them, but many here worry that the case, which was supposed to show Iraqis how a democratic justice system works, may instead be eroding the public's confidence in the tribunal.
Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, and his seven co-defendants are on trial for the murder of nearly 150 people after the 1982 assassination attempt in the largely Shiite-Muslim city of Dujail. They face several charges, including crimes against humanity. If convicted, they could be sentenced to death.
Sunday's was the first session under Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, the replacement for mild-mannered Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who resigned after criticism that he had let the defendants dominate the proceedings.
Abdel-Rahman tried to make it clear that a new regime would rule in the court, warning as he opened the proceedings that the defendants would not be allowed to make political statements. The court, he said, would only consider legal arguments.
One of the defense lawyers immediately rose and began addressing the judge, ignoring Abdel-Rahman's repeated requests that he sit down. Then, Saddam's half brother and co-defendant, Barzan Ibrahim, shouted an insult. Abdel-Rahman, visibly angry, ordered him removed. Four guards surrounded Ibrahim, who kicked and screamed as he was dragged out.
That drew Saddam's ire, and both he and defense lawyers began shouting. "Long live Iraq! Long live Iraq!" the former dictator said at one point.
The judge tried to regain control, yelling at the defendants and their attorneys and hitting his gavel. But the courtroom was chaotic.
The judge then threw out a defense lawyer, prompting the entire defense team to leave. The judge warned that if they left, they would not be allowed in for future sessions.
A team of court-appointed lawyers walked in minutes later and filled the empty seats; Saddam ranted, telling the judge he rejected the new defense team.
It is unclear whether Saddam was thrown out or left under his own volition. At first the former dictator asked to leave, but the judge denied him that request.
"How will the court proceed without Saddam?" the former dictator asked.
Then as they argued about whether Saddam had the right to leave, the judge told him to go. Saddam responded that the judge had no right to tell him what to do. He eventually walked out, as did two other co-defendants.
The court quickly resumed the trial, and the four remaining defendants remained largely quiet. Three witnesses testified that after the assassination attempt on Saddam, they were arrested and held for about four years in a remote desert compound.
The trial will resume either Wednesday or Thursday.
(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Zaineb Obeid contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.