The defense began closing arguments in the trial of Saddam Hussein on Monday after the chief judge expressed regrets over the slaying of one of the former leader's top lawyers last month.

A lawyer for Ali Dayih Ali, a lower-level defendant in the case, was the first to deliver his argument. The court will hear lawyers from each of the eight defendants in turn, then statements from each defendant.

Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman opened the session expressing his regrets for the slaying of Khamis al-Obeidi, one of Saddam's lawyers, who was abducted from his Baghdad home on June 21 and found shot to death hours later on a street near the Shiite slum of Sadr City.

"We announce our deep sorrow and confirm that the court condemns any attack against lawyers or against any of those working in this court," he said.

Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Duleimi, was absent from the court along with several other defense lawyers.