BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein took the stand in his trial for the first time on Wednesday, calling the proceedings a "comedy" and appealing to Iraqis to stop fighting each other and instead fight American troops. In response, the chief judge closed the courtroom to the public.
The deposed leader continued to read from a prepared text, despite the judge's yelling at him to sit down.
"Let the [Iraqi] people unite and resist the invaders and their backers," Saddam said. "Don't fight among yourselves."
Since the trial began in October, Saddam has spoken frequently. But Wednesday's session was the first time he was to be directly questioned by the judge and prosecution about the killing of 148 Shiites during a 1982 crackdown against the town of Dujail.
Saddam insisted he still was Iraq's president and called for Iraqis to stop the wave of sectarian violence that has rocked the country since the Feb. 22 bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra.
"What pains me most is what I heard recently about something that aims to harm our people," Saddam said. "My conscience tells me that the great people of Iraq have nothing to do with these acts."
Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman, who later adjourned the trial until April 5, interrupted Saddam, saying he was not allowed to give political speeches in the court.
"I am the head of state," Saddam replied.
"You used to be a head of state. You are a defendant now," Abdel-Rahman barked at Saddam.
As Saddam continued reading from a prepared text, the judge repeatedly turned off his microphone to prevent his words from being heard and told him to address the charges against him. But Saddam ignored the judge and continued reading from his text.
"You are being tried in a criminal case. Stop your political speech," Abdel-Rahman said angrily.
"Had it not been for politics I wouldn't be here," Saddam replied.
He went on, urging Iraqis not to fight each other.
"What happened in the last days is bad," he said. "You will live in darkness and rivers of blood for no reason."
He continued: "The bloodshed that they [the Americans] have caused to the Iraqi people only made them more intent and strong to evict the foreigners from their land and liberate their country."
At one point, Abdel-Rahman screamed at him, "Respect yourself!"
Saddam shouted back: "You respect yourself!"
"You are being tried in a criminal case for killing innocent people, not because of your conflict with America," Abdel-Rahman said.
Saddam responded, "What about the innocent people who are dying in Baghdad? I am talking to the Iraqi people."
Finally, Abdel-Rahman ordered the session closed to the public, telling journalists to leave the chamber. The delayed video feed also was cut.
"The court has decided to turn this into a secret and closed session," he said.
The stormy session was a stark contrast to the past three hearings, when each of Saddam's seven co-defendants was questioned by Abdel-Rahman and the chief prosecutor.
Saddam and the seven former members of his regime face possible execution by hanging if they are convicted in connection with the crackdown in Dujail following a July 8, 1982, shooting attack on Saddam's motorcade in the town.
Last month, Saddam stood up in court and boldly acknowledged that he ordered the 148 Shiites put on trial before his Revolutionary Court, which eventually sentenced them all to death. But Saddam insisted it was his right to do so since they were suspected in the attempt to kill him.
Before Saddam's testimony, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim — who headed the feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency at the time of the Dujail attack — was questioned for more than three hours by the chief judge and prosecutor.
Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi showed the court a series of Mukhabarat documents on the Dujail case from 1982 and 1983, some of which bore signatures he said were Ibrahim's. One of them was a memo from Ibrahim's office asking Saddam for rewards for six Mukhabarat officers involved in the Dujail crackdown.
"This is not my signature. My signature is easy to forge, and this is forged," Ibrahim said.
He said the same of another document listing Dujail families whose farmlands were razed in retaliation for the shooting. Another document, signed by an assistant to Ibrahim, talked about hundreds of Dujail detainees being held at Mukhabarat headquarters and the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
Ibrahim said that memo as well was false.
"It's not true. It's forged. We all know that forgery happens," he said.
In previous sessions, Dujail residents testified that Ibrahim participated in torturing them at Mukhabarat headquarters. One woman claimed Ibrahim kicked her in the chest while she was hung upside down and naked by her interrogators.
But Ibrahim insisted the Mukhabarat was not involved in the investigation into the attack on Saddam and denied any personal role in the crackdown.
"I didn't order any detentions. I didn't interrogate anyone," he said, adding that he resigned from the Mukhabarat in August 1983. "There is not a single document showing that I was involved in the investigation."
Ibrahim insisted that the General Security agency carried out the Dujail crackdown. He said his only involvement came on the day of the shooting, when he went to the village and ordered security officials to release Dujail residents who had been arrested.
The defense has argued that Saddam's government acted within its rights to respond after the assassination attempt on the former Iraqi leader.
The prosecutor has sought to show that the crackdown went well beyond the authors of the attack to punish Dujail's civilian population, saying entire families were arrested and tortured and that the 148 people killed were sentenced to death without a proper trial.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.