BAGHDAD, Dec 6: The gripping trial of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein over a Shiite massacre 23 years ago made a shaky restart Tuesday with the court due to hear testimony from witnesses with protected identities,report agencies.
As in three previous hearings, Saddam was the last to enter the courtroom. Apart from his usual Koran, he carried files and papers, after his protests to the judge Monday that he had been forced to take notes on his hands.
"Good morning to all those who respect the law," the deposed president said, greeting his co-defendants.
Shortly after the audience began, the court, which defence lawyers have accused of being chaotic, cut the audio feed to journalists, allowing a woman witness to speak without her voice being identified for security reasons.
Presiding judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin then ruled a 10-minute break in order to decide how the woman, sitting behind a curtain, would be able to speak and be understood in the heavily-defended courtroom of the Iraqi High Tribunal.
"Everyone has to hear," Amin said.
A US official close to the proceedings said witnesses would Tuesday give testimony without their faces appearing on delayed television footage and with their voices disguised for security reasons.
Mesmerising the world with chilling accounts of torture from witnesses and angry tirades from Saddam blasting the legality of the proceedings, the Iraqi courtroom drama has been hailed the "trial of the century" by the local media.
Saddam, for decades one of the most feared leaders in the Middle East before being ousted by invading US-led troops in 2003, is on trial with seven henchmen for the massacre of 148 people from the Shiite village of Dujail in 1982.
He and his seven deputies, who have pleaded not guilty, face the death penalty by hanging if convicted over the killings, which followed an assassination bid against Iraq's former strongman during a visit to the town.
The trial has been plagued by a range of problems since its inception, most notably serious security issues.
Two defence lawyers have been killed and Iraqi security forces said Sunday they foiled an insurgent group's plot to fire rockets at the court building.
Ahmed Mohammed Hassem al-Dujaili Monday was the first witness to testify in person at the trial and be cross-examined just metres (yards) from Saddam, who contested his testimony.
A second witness, Jawad Abdul Aziz, recalled how Saddam's presidential guard "bombarded his village" before Amin adjourned the first marathon session.
Iraq's newly empowered Shiite majority has heavily criticised the slow start of the trial, which is anyway likely to be adjourned ahead of landmark general elections on December 15.
Commentators have accused Saddam of trying to hijack the trial with his repeated tirades, mirrored by similarly theatrical interjections from his co-defendant and half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, who is suffering from cancer.
US former attorney general Ramsey Clark, who is among those representing Saddam, has claimed it will be very difficult for his client to receive a fair trial and Monday criticised the proceedings as "chaotic".
"If you don't have an impartial judge, why have a trial?" Ramsey asked. "You have to probe the prejudice. You have to find out if there is something in their background that makes it difficult for them to be fair."
Saddam is facing charges in this trial over the killing of Shiite villagers, but his regime also launched the bloody Anfal campaign against the Kurds, killing more than 180,000 people over the past two decades.
Clark, who with other defence lawyers briefly walked out of proceedings Monday, has also demanded better protection for the defence lawyers.
A second member of Saddam's defence team said the court set up under US occupation was forbidden by international law, and called for his client to be tried in an international tribunal.
Among the other defendants are Taha Yassin Ramadan, Saddam's former vice president, and Awad Ahmed al-Bandar, the head judge of the scrapped revolutionary court.
The process began with a brief opening on October 19, followed by a 40-day delay and a two-hour session on November 28 before a week-long adjournment until Monday's hearing.
Meanwhile: The trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and seven of his deputies resumed Tuesday after a short recess called over problems protecting the identity of a woman witness, an AFP correspondent said.
The woman, sat in court behind a curtain, had begun to give her testimony relayed with her voice disguised for security reasons, but defence lawyers protested and charged that her testimony was incomprehensible.
Judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin had then ordered a 10-minute break to decide how best the woman could speak.