SADDAM Hussein's trial collapsed into chaos moments after resuming yesterday, as the former Iraqi president and his defence team stormed out and guards dragged his half-brother from the courtroom.
Saddam was escorted out after he shouted "down with traitors" and refused to accept his new, court-appointed defence team.
The dramatic scenes were played out as the recently appointed chief judge, Raouf Abdel-Rahman, tried to stamp his authority on the trial, telling lawyers he would not allow them to make political statements in the US-backed court.
"I am the judge and you are the defendant," Mr Abdel-Rahman told Saddam as he checked an outburst by the former Iraqi president, who complained: "This is an American court and its rules are American ... you cannot force me to stay in court."
Mr Abdel-Rahman is under pressure to deal firmly with Saddam after the government accused his predecessor of being too lenient on the former Iraqi leader. Saddam's courtroom tirades have dominated proceedings.
The walkouts by Saddam, two co-defendants and their legal team after verbally sparring with Mr Abdel-Rahman, and the judge's expulsion of a fourth accused, will raise fresh concerns about the court's ability to stage a fair trial.
Within minutes of the start, Mr Abdel-Rahman ejected Saddam's former intelligence chief and half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, after he refused to keep quiet and called the trial "a daughter of a whore". Al-Tikriti was dragged out by guards.
"This court is not a place for political speeches," said Mr Abdel-Rahman, a 64-year-old Kurd. The chief of Saddam's legal team, Khalil al-Dulaimi, protested: "This trial is not fair," after which the defence lawyers walked out.
"If you leave then you can't come back for future sessions," said Mr Abdel-Rahman. When the judge then tried to impose court-appointed lawyers on Saddam, the former Iraqi leader turned to them, and shaking his finger, said: "I reject you. If you stay here you are evil."
After further exchanges Saddam then left the courtroom and was followed by his former vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, and Awad Hamed al-Bander, a former chief judge in his Revolutionary Court.
Speaking after the fiasco, one of Saddam's defence team, Khamis al-Aubeide, said the former leader would refuse to attend the next session, scheduled for next week, if the defence team was not reinstated.
Saddam and seven others are on trial for the 1982 killing of 148 villagers. They could face the death penalty if convicted.