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Saddam Hussein ejected from trial

Story Highlights

• New chief judge ejects Saddam Hussein from court for refusing to sit down
• Former chief judge ordered replaced for saying Hussein was not a dictator
• Human Rights Watch: Move showed no respect for judicial independence
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The chief judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial has ejected the ousted Iraqi leader from the courtroom for refusing to sit down moments after hearings began.

The trial resumed Wednesday with a new chief judge -- Mohammad Orabi Majeed Al-Khalefa -- just a day after Iraq's government demanded that Chief Judge Adullah al-Almiri be replaced because of his statement that the ousted leader was not a dictator.

Responding to the change, defense attorneys for Hussein immediately left the courtroom after reading a statement condemning the move.

"We believe the judiciary does not enjoy the independence required," the statement said, adding "the decision is against the main principles governing the independence and integrity of the judiciary."

A short time later, the former Iraqi leader argued with the new chief judge and was ejected. "Take him out," Al-Khalefa said. "Get out." (Watch as new judge takes charge -- 3:08)

On Tuesday, Ali Dabbagh, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said Chief Judge Adullah al-Almiri could no longer be considered impartial and said the government had the administrative authority to remove him.

"We believe that Judge al-Almiri has lost his neutrality after describing Saddam as 'not a dictator' before the procedures of this trial are over," Dabbagh said. "This hurts the feelings of the Iraqi people, and so the government has asked that Judge al-Almiri be replaced by another judge, which the Iraqi High Tribunal will pick."

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the move shows "a complete lack of respect for judicial independence."

Hussein and six former officials of his ousted regime are accused of mass murder and atrocities during the Anfal campaign against northern Iraq's Kurdish population in the late 1980s. The campaign, which included the use of chemical weapons, is blamed for the deaths of an estimated 100,000 Kurds.

Al-Amiri raised eyebrows during Thursday's proceedings because of the "not a dictator" comment, made after Hussein criticized a witness against him. The witness, a 57-year-old Kurdish farmer, told the court that Hussein told him to "shut up" when he pleaded for the release of nine missing relatives.

"I wonder why this man wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator?" Hussein asked the court.

Al-Amiri replied, "You were not a dictator. ... It is the people around a person that make a dictator. That was not only the case with you specifically. It is all over the world."

The high tribunal said the judge did not mean what he said -- that the remarks were meant to head off a courtroom dispute with Hussein and move the trial forward. But Dabbagh said that was worse than if he had meant the remarks.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said the government demand has "greatly undermined the court's own appearance of neutrality and objectivity."

"Judges must not be the subject of inflammatory criticism by government officials," the group said . "Any process for disciplining or removing judges must occur in accordance with independent judicial procedures, and not take place in the court of public opinion."

If convicted, Saddam and his lieutenants -- including his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, the former general nicknamed "Chemical Ali" -- could be sentenced to death.

Hussein is already awaiting a verdict in the first case against him, involving allegations that he ordered the killings of 148 Iraqi Shiite Arabs in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after a 1982 assassination attempt.

The judge who began hearing that case, Rizgar Amin, had been criticized for allowing Hussein and his co-defendants to speak out of turn and criticize the U.S. invasion that deposed them and resigned, citing personal reasons.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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Saddam Hussein listens during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq.

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