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In first testimony, Hussein urges Iraqis to fight

Former dictator's trial adjourns until April 5

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Saddam Hussein described himself Wednesday as "president of Iraq."

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein took the stand for the first time at his trial Wednesday and angrily called on Iraqis to unite and fight the occupying forces.

"I am Saddam Hussein al-Majid, president of Iraq and commander of armed forces," Hussein declared, adding that God had trusted him to lead Iraq.

Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman reminded Hussein he is a defendant and no longer the president. (Watch Hussein's first testimony at his trial -- 6:36)

Hussein's tactics prompted the exasperated judge to close the proceedings to the media at one point. The trial was reopened to reporters later, then adjourned for three weeks, until April 5.

Before the sharp exchanges, Hussein's demeanor at first was not as theatrical as it had been in the past.

He walked in swiftly, with his shoulders bent and head down. He didn't acknowledge his defense team, apparently expecting a tough session.

Hussein read from a statement calmly at first, followed by angry outbursts as the exchanges with the judge grew more heated.

When challenged, Hussein became irate, shaking his finger and pointing at the judge.

Rahman told the former dictator, "This is a criminal court. We are not interested in politics."

Hussein answered, "If it wasn't for politics, neither you nor I would be here today."

The incensed judge cut off Hussein's microphone at least nine times as the former Iraqi president made provocative remarks such as "you are living in darkness and bleeding from rivers of blood."

Hussein is on trial with seven co-defendants from his former regime on charges of crimes against humanity in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt against the ex-Iraqi leader in 1982.

More than 140 Shiite males were killed in a crackdown after the attempt on Hussein's life.

Hussein praised the Iraqi people and their efforts against the U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

"You have always been great in my eyes, and you will continue to be so. I have total faith in you," he said.

"It's only a question of time until the sun rises and you'll be victorious and you will prevail."

Hussein added, "Your enemies don't wish you any good. They wish you misery and more suffering and bloodshed.

"I never discriminated against any of you and have always tried to be just and fair to everyone," said Hussein, saying he is "inspired by the principles that are familiar to you and under our constitution which stipulated Islam official religion of Iraq: one nation."

Ramsey Clark -- the former U.S. attorney general who is one of the former Iraqi leader's attorneys -- told CNN that during the closed session Hussein delivered a "powerful and effective" statement about the context of the time period in which the Dujail events took place.

Clark said Hussein argued comprehensively about the necessity and legality of what the government had to do during that violent period -- wracked by its war with Iran, infiltration from Iran, treason and desertions.

The closed session lasted more than an hour and a half. Clark said the court has "threatened us with prosecution if we release what he said."

"We don't even have a copy of it. I hope to get one. I'm going to do everything I can because I think it's important for the world to know what he said," Clark said.

When reporters were allowed back in later, Hussein was not at all combative. He appeared to have a subdued demeanor and even raised his hand at one point when he wanted to speak.

Before Hussein took the stand, his half brother, former intelligence chief Barzan Hassan, testified, denying he took part in the Dujail crackdown. (Full story)

CNN's Nic Robertson and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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