His lead counsel told the judge that Saddam, who had ended Tuesday's fourth session by telling his judges to 'Go to hell', would be absent. The judge then called Wednesday's first witness.
Saddam's attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, also said he would meet court officials after the day's hearings to discuss security for his team, following the killings of two defence attorneys after the trial opened on 19 October.
Saddam's place at the front of the penned-in dock, where he sits with seven other defendants charged with crimes against humanity, was conspicuously vacant.
Defence lawyers had spent the morning in discussions with judges and the 68-year-old ousted strongman about what to do next, a source in the heavily fortified Baghdad courthouse said.
The former Iraqi ruler says the
trial is a US-staged sham
Later, the presiding judge announced the adjournment of the trial until 21 December.
Two witnesses gave harrowing testimony and were cross-examined by lawyers before the session was adjourned.
The landmark trial had been expected to be postponed after the Wednesday hearing to allow Iraq to concentrate on general elections on 15 December.
Saddam had said on Tuesday he would not attend an "illegal" trial. He has repeatedly said the trial is a US-staged sham and has berated the presiding judge and chief prosecutor.
Court officials say that in principle the trial can go ahead without the defendants present, but the court source said the chief judge was keen for Saddam to appear.
A week before Iraqis vote for their first, full-term parliament since US-led forces overthrew Saddam in 2003, the government led by his Shia Islamist enemies has been keen to show their long-time tormentor is facing Iraqi justice.
On Tuesday, Saddam had also complained that he had not been allowed to shower or change his shirt and underwear for days, and asked the judge if he was trying to exhaust the defendants.
Wednesday's hearing was the fifth session in the trial of Saddam and seven co-defendents accused over the killing of 148 people in Dujail after a 1982 attempt to assassinate the former president in the Shia village north of Baghdad.