The prosecution in the trial of Saddam Hussein began giving its closing arguments Monday, launching the final phase of the eight-month-old trial against the former leader and seven ex-members of his regime for crimes against humanity.

The defense is scheduled to start its final arguments on July 10. The five-judge panel will then recess the court to consider its verdicts.

Saddam and his co-defendants could face execution by hanging if convicted on charges of crimes against humanity for a crackdown against Shiites in the town of Dujail in the 1980s. They are accused to arresting hundreds of people, including women and children, torturing some to death and killing 148 who were sentenced to death for a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam.

"We ask the court to impose the heaviest possible penalty against these defendants," one of the prosecutors said in his closing arguments.

The defendants "carried out a systematic, wide-scale attack" against the town of Dujail, said the lawyer, whose name has not been released to protect him from reprisals.

"They carried out broad imprisonments of men, women and children, who were exposed to physical and mental torture, including the use of electrical shocks," he said.

Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman told the court that the day's session would be dedicated solely to hearing the prosecution's closing. But Barzan Ibrahim -- a top co-defendant in the trial and Saddam's former intelligence chief -- interrupted him several times asking to speak, and the judge said he would allow him to speak at the end of the session.

The prosecutor said Saddam ordered the crackdown and reviewed details of how it was carried out. "Everything was done under the direct supervision of (Ibrahim), who was head of the Mukhabarat intelligence agency and who participated personally in torturing those who were detained, as witnesses testified," the lawyer said.

He claimed the shooting attack on Saddam's motorcade that sparked the crackdown was "not real but was fabricated because there is no evidence that it took place. ... It had political aims at that time when the former regime was in war with Iran and he wanted to win international and regional sides."

The defense has argued that the actions of the regime were justified because it had to crack down after members of a pro-Iranian Shiite party tried to kill the then-president. Defense witnesses -- as well as some prosecution witnesses -- have described the assassination attempt.

The defense also has said that some of the 148 sentenced to death are still alive, suggesting that parts of the prosecution's case are wrong or fabricated.

Many of Iraq's Shiite majority and Kurdish minority are eager to see Saddam and his cohorts executed in revenge for his regime's oppression of their communities.

But the perceived fairness of the trial will be a key question. Many Sunni Arabs see the court as a case of "victors' justice" carried out by the Shiites and Kurds who dominate Iraq's government after the fall of Saddam in 2003.