Saddam Hussein rebuked the chief judge of his genocide trial Wednesday, accusing the court of keeping the former leader from defending himself.

Saddam criticized Chief Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa for switching off the microphone when the ousted Iraqi president began shouting a verse from the Koran during the previous day's hearing. When Saddam refused to stop, the judge ordered him evicted from the courtroom.

"When the accuser and prosecutor talk, the world listens. When the man called 'the accused' speaks, you switch off the microphone. Is this fair?" Saddam asked al-Khalifa.

CountryWatch: Iraq

The judge replied that he had cut Saddam's microphone to "bring order to the courtroom."

"Clearly you wanted to give a speech when you started reciting a verse from the holy book," al-Khalifa said. "You can talk if you want to defend yourself, but not to get into the political labyrinth."

Saddam interrupted, but the judge cut the microphone again. Saddam sat down and the judge called a witness to the stand.

Saddam and his co-defendants have pleaded innocent to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during a military offensive against Iraq's Kurdish population in 1987-88. Saddam and one other defendant are also charged with genocide against the Kurds.

The prosecution says about 180,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the military offensive, named Operation Anfal. If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to death by hanging.

Tuesday's raucous session was the fourth time al-Khalifa ejected Saddam from the court since becoming chief judge Sept. 20. As the defendants continued to interrupt the proceedings, the judge had them all thrown out of court.

On Wednesday, defendant Hussein Rashid Mohammed protested to the judge that a bailiff had hit him the previous day.

"You say the court is Iraqi. Is it acceptable that a defendant is hit and sworn at in front of the judge?" asked Mohammed, who punched a bailiff who forced the former army commander back into his seat on Tuesday.

Al-Khalifa replied that he wanted Mohammed to remain seated in court.

"Everyone in this court is under my protection," he said.

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