-- The trial of Saddam Hussein, envisioned as a lesson in judicial fairness for a new Iraq, lurched ahead as a chaotic spectacle Monday, at times degenerating into a shouting match as the former dictator threatened to hijack the proceedings.
During the lengthy hearing, theatrical gestures and comments by Hussein, his attorneys and co-defendants nearly overshadowed dramatic testimony by victims of Hussein's government, including villagers who described seeing their close relatives tortured.
Hussein's co-defendants stood to hail him, and one spit at spectators in the courtroom. Hussein leapt from his seat to shout at the judge, wagging his finger. Censors cut off the television broadcast. Defense lawyers walked out as the trial judge struggled to try to control events.
At one point, Hussein and his half brother, Barazan Ibrahim, stood and saluted, shouting, "Long live Iraq!" -- providing a televised image of defiance to the Iraqi audience. Both men scorned the charges against them.
"I am not afraid of execution," Hussein boasted. Later he scoffed: "Do you want the neck of Saddam Hussein? You can have it."
Outside the trial, being held in a special courtroom built inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, there were growing signs of public discontent, including criticism in the press and demonstrations in the street.
Traffic was paralyzed Monday morning as Shiite Muslim university students marched in the streets, then listened to Abdul Aziz Hakim, the head of Iraq's largest political party.
"This criminal deserves the death penalty, the highest punishment," Hakim told the students. They chanted, "Execution, execution, we demand execution."
The turbulent proceedings included the first confrontation in open court between Hussein and some of his government's victims. Two men from the farming village of Dujail described the harsh collective punishment meted out to the village and its people after shots were fired on Hussein's car from a nearby orchard in 1982.
Hussein and seven co-defendants are charged with executing more than 140 villagers and imprisoning hundreds more after the assassination attempt.
"It was like a war front in Dujail," said the first witness, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed, who was 15 at the time. The government bombed the fields, shot some suspects and rounded up men, women and children, Mohammed said. He and others spent more than three years in prison.
At times choking back tears, Mohammed described how seven of his brothers were executed, and how they were all interrogated and tortured. One brother was tortured with electric shocks in front of his father, he said, sobbing.
"They knew who was most beloved by his father. They took him, 16 years old. Before my father, they beat him. Then they said: Kill him."
Mohammed was followed on the witness stand by Jawad Abdul Aziz Jawad, who was 10 at the time of the assassination attempt. He described how giant bulldozers descended on the village three months after the shooting, ripping through farms and plowing over houses.
In one of many surprises in the trial, an outburst from co-defendant Ibrahim revealed that the former prime minister of Iraq, Mohammed Hamza Zubaidi, a top deputy to Hussein, died this week in U.S. custody.
U.S. military officials later said Zubaidi, 67, who was among the top wanted officials of Hussein's government, had been hospitalized for several days, complaining of chest pains. He died Friday and his body was being sent to the United States for an autopsy, according to Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for detainee operations in Iraq.
"It was natural causes," Rudisill said. He said there was "absolutely no" suspicion of foul play.
Military authorities had announced Sunday that an unidentified "67-year-old civilian" had died at the hospital attached to Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
Rudisill said U.S. officials generally do not release names of deceased detainees because of the need to notify families. "We weren't hiding anything," he said.
The trial had been planned by Iraqi and U.S. authorities since Hussein's capture in December 2003. In a calculated gamble, they decided to try him in Iraq, rather than before an international tribunal abroad. Officials said an Iraqi trial likely would be swifter and might provide a good judicial model for a new Iraqi democracy.
But the trial has gotten off to a slow start, with much legal wrangling. It has been further clouded by violence. Two defense attorneys have been assassinated and one has fled. Authorities have said they discovered a plot to attack the courtroom.
One of the five judges on the panel excused himself Monday when he learned that one of the defendants had signed a death warrant for the judge's brother, court officials confirmed.
Television coverage has not shown the public a smooth judicial process. Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin has been unable to silence the defendants, who have shouted at the judges, witnesses, defense attorneys and even the spectators.
"You are a dog," Ibrahim shouted to the VIP gallery at one point, leaping to his feet and spitting. He said someone had threatened him from the gallery.
Former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, who has joined the defense team, said later that several spectators in the gallery had made a gesture to the defendants of drawing a knife across their throats.
Hussein himself has been alternately bombastic and petty. He continued to press demands for paper to write notes on. At one point he showed the judge the palm of his hand, covered in notes in purple ink.
As Mohammed was testifying, Hussein said to him with a sneer, "Why didn't they give you a death sentence?"
The trial is being broadcast nationally, but the tape is delayed and on Monday was interrupted repeatedly, apparently at the order of the chief judge. The end of the day's proceedings was cut off entirely, depriving Iraqis of hearing Hussein's final and most vitriolic tirade of the day.
As the judge tried to admonish him, Hussein roared, "Let him not interrupt me," and called the testimony "an organized lie," according to pool reporters at the trial. He finally flung himself into a chair, proclaiming, "I am Saddam Hussein."
"Either they show the whole trial, or not. This is all scoring points for Saddam," said Haqi Ismail, 32, a science student, as he shopped in a store Monday evening. He complained that the witnesses so far had offered little in firsthand accounts.
"All they said is, 'They told me,' or, 'I heard,' " Ismail said. "No judge in the world would go by that."
The hearsay appeared to be problematic to the court, as Mohammed acknowledged he witnessed little of what he recounted and Jawad declined to directly blame the defendants by name in his testimony.
"As everyone heard, there is not even one piece of evidence brought up, either written or oral, really condemning Mr. Saddam or his colleagues," said defense attorney Najeeb Nauimi, who at one point staged a walkout with other lawyers to force the judge to listen to their oral arguments. "This court is not capable of handling this trial."
"The court was chaotic half the time," Clark said on CNN after the trial, which is to resume Tuesday. "It ought to have a healing effect" for the nation. "But the only way to have a healing effect is to be fair, and you don't get that sense. Certainly the defense doesn't."
Special correspondent Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.