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Defiant Saddam rejects court, charges

Saddam Hussein in a combative moment in court Thursday.
Saddam Hussein appeared in Iraqi court on the morning of July 1, 2004

Seven preliminary charges were read against the former Iraqi leader.

Saddam was dressed in civilian clothes for his court appearance. Handcuffs and chains were removed once he was in the courtroom.

Saddam referred to the court proceeding as "theater."

The court charged Saddam with invading Kuwait, suppressing the Shiite uprising after the 1991 Gulf War and killing members of political parties and religious leaders.

Saddam refused to sign court documents that said he understood what took place in court, noting that he wanted his attorney present.
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Former dictator Saddam Hussein appears in an Iraqi court.

Saddam has heated exchange with judge.

Shiites say Saddam looked more like president than prisoner.

• Behind the Scenes:  Amanpour
• Transcript:  Saddam proceeding
• Gallery: High value prisoners
Will Saddam Hussein receive a fair trial?
Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein stepped into an Iraqi court on Thursday and entered a new chapter in Iraq's history, hearing preliminary charges against him that included the gassing of Kurds and the invasion of Kuwait.

Appearing before a judge in a 30-minute hearing, Saddam looked thin and downcast, but became animated and at times combative as proceedings unfolded.

When he was ushered into the court, the judge asked him his name and twice he said, "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq."

The former dictator listened to seven preliminary charges outlined in his arrest warrant -- the killing of religious figures in 1974; gassing of Kurds in Halabja in 1988; killing the Kurdish Barzani clan in 1983; killing members of political parties in the last 30 years; the 1986-88 ''Anfal'' campaign of displacing Kurds; the suppression of the 1991 uprisings by Kurds and Shiites; and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

These are not the formal charges against Saddam, which will be worked out and detailed in an indictment over the next few months, beginning the investigative phase of the case.

The spectacle, meanwhile, was surprising for a generation of Iraqis who came to fear the sight of him.

Saddam had bags under his eyes and looked gaunt. He had a neatly trimmed beard and was thinner than he appeared in December, when he was seized in a hideout near Tikrit.

When the judge asked whether he understood his rights and could afford counsel, Saddam pointed his finger at and asked whose jurisdiction the court was under.

Saddam challenged the judge on the invasion of Kuwait, saying: "How could you say that? I did that for the Iraqi people ... how could you defend these dogs," he said, referring to the Kuwaitis.

The judge reprimanded him for his language.

Saddam said Kuwait had been trying to bring down the price of oil and turn Iraqis into paupers and Iraqi women into prostitutes.

"This is all a theater" designed by President Bush, whom he called a criminal, to win re-election, said Saddam, looking around the court with a half-smile during one outburst.

Bush on Thursday had no reaction to that comment, according to White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. The president is pleased that "justice is being served to Saddam Hussein and his band of oppressors by the Iraqi people in an Iraqi court," McClellan said.

"It's very well-known some of the atrocities he's committed," he said. "All you have to do is go and look at what happened in Halabja, where he gassed his own people."

Saddam also referred to the accusation of gassing Kurds.

"I heard about that on the television reports, saying it happened during the rule of President Saddam Hussein," he told the judge.

In March 1988, Iraqi warplanes bombed the northern Iraqi town of Halabja. More than 5,000 people reportedly were killed in the attack, which used multiple chemical agents, according to international scientists.

In another exchange, the former dictator said no one had the authority to strip him of his title of president if he is being accused of committing the crimes while he was in office. "I'm elected by the people of Iraq. The occupation cannot take that right away from me," he said.

In court, each time Saddam wanted to speak, however, he was respectful, saying "please" and making a hand gesture as well to indicate that.

Saddam refused to sign court documents that said he understood what took place in court, noting that he wanted his attorney present.

Saddam did not have legal representation at the hearing.

Tim Hughes, a member of Saddam's legal team, told CNN in an interview from Jordan that he objected to the proceeding because Saddam was denied legal advice beforehand.

Hughes said the defense will be pursuing a change of venue because "any trial in Baghdad will not be fair." Under Iraqi law Saddam remains president of Iraq because he was overthrown in an illegal invasion, Hughes said. Therefore, he said, Saddam still has immunity from prosecution.

Saddam arrived for the hearing in an armored bus, as part of a convoy that included four Humvees and a military ambulance.

He wore a gray suit jacket, a starched white shirt, a belt, brown trousers, highly polished black shoes and brown socks.

He was helped into a chair by the guards and leaned his arm against the chair and started an interaction with the judge.

After the proceeding, Saddam was escorted to a new place of detention, still under U.S. military guard.

In an interview with CNN, Feisal al-Istrabadi, the principal drafter of the transitional administrative law, was asked about the availability of war crime evidence if Saddam didn't sign documents approving the actions he is suspected of spearheading.

"The crimes of the regimes were not few and were not small in scale. You are talking about mass public executions. For instance in 1969 there were mass public executions on TV of 13 men.

"These were not hidden crimes, they were in open, under the principles of command responsibility, whether you have a document signed by Saddam or not, under the principles of command, the crimes were so ubiquitous, that I think it would be virtually impossible for Saddam to argue that he did not know."

The same court procedure took place Thursday for 11 high-profile members of Saddam's regime, who also face charges. They include former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, who often defended the regime internationally, and Ali Hassan al-Majid, dubbed "Chemical Ali" for his alleged role in the use of chemical weapons on Iraqi civilians.

Two of Saddam's half-brothers are also in the group, along with his vice president, defense minister and presidential secretary.

None of the detainees had legal counsel in Thursday's proceedings.

Saddam and the others were transferred to Iraqi legal custody on Wednesday, but they remain in U.S. military hands.

Iraq's interim president, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, told CNN earlier in the day that the trial will be fair.

"All Iraqis can listen and hear and understand that he will be tried according to the law," al-Yawar said. "There will be no political aspect to his trial."

He said the trial "means that a very dark era has been gone forever."

-- CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, CNN Producers Ayman Mohyeldin and Carol Cratty and a pool reporter contributed to this report.

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