Saddam himself delivered an angry tirade against the United States and Israel on the fourth day of his trial, marked by a bombing against a police academy in Baghdad that killed 36 people.

"The Americans and the Israelis want the execution of Saddam Hussein," he shouted from the dock. "I was already sentenced to death three times and this will not be the first.

"Neither Saddam nor his companions are frightened of execution," he added.

At the end of the day's proceedings, Saddam shouted: "Go to hell." The former president has also threatened not to attend the court in future.

Saddam, for decades one of the Middle East's unchallenged rulers before being ousted by invading US-led troops in 2003, is on trial with seven former allies for the massacre of 148 Shias from the village of Dujail in 1982.

The eight, who have all pleaded not guilty, face the death penalty if convicted in what the local media has dubbed the "trial of the century".

Chaotic start

Tuesday's hearing started in chaos because of a row over whether the first witness's voice - heavily distorted to protect her identity - could be understood, and was marked by angry interjections from Saddam and his co-defendant and half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti.

Witness A gave testimony of how she was tortured by intelligence agents and jailed in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison in the early 1980s.

Saddam arrived with a copy of
the Quran, papers and files

The woman - just 16 when she was detained and then held for four years - said, with her voice electronically disguised, that a man ordered her to undress before pistol whipping her and lashing her with cables, her legs up.

"He said take off your clothes. He hit me with the pistol and I was forced to take my clothes and he lifted my legs upward and he hit me with cables and asked me to talk," she said.

Just metres away, a silent Saddam sat in the dock, his eyes blinking.

"My youth ... was destroyed," said the woman, who today describes herself as a housewife.

Another woman in her 70s, Witness B gave evidence to the court in a closed session which allowed her to speak in her own voice.

Voice quality

Witness B said she was arrested and held for four months along with her husband and seven children in 1981, the year before the Dujail massacre.

"Our job is to protect [the court's independence]. We do not interfere in the process"

Ibrahim al-Jaafari,
Iraqi prime minister

Defence lawyers again protested over the quality of the computer-modulated voice and the judge cut the audio feed to journalists and drew a curtain over the press box to allow her to speak without being identified.

Witness C spoke of how he was beaten for 19 days at intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, tortured with electric shocks and given only one small plate of food to share between four people.

Al-Tikriti, who is suffering from cancer, interrupted the testimony, accusing the witness of confusing security with intelligence agents.

"It was under security forces, the intelligence had nothing to do with anything," shouted al-Tikriti, the former director of the Mukhabarat intelligence service.

Deadly attack

The hearing took place amid a fresh explosion of violence, with two bombers killing at least 36 police and cadets when they walked into a Baghdad police academy.

Hours later, another bomber blew himself up outside a cafe in Baghdad, killing three people and injuring at least 20 others.

The attacks came just nine days before general elections to choose the country's first full parliament since Saddam's fall in April 2003.

The police academy in Baghdad
which was targeted on Tuesday

Defence lawyers, who have been accused of trying to delay proceedings, protested that a witness's modulated voice was incomprehensible, seeing the audio feed briefly cut to journalists in the press box.

Saddam entered the courtroom as usual with a copy of the Quran in his hand as well as files and papers after protesting the previous day 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.

At a marathon session on Monday, Saddam insisted he was not afraid of being executed as the court was subjected to tearful accounts of murder and torture.

Repeated tirades

Iraqi commentators have accused Saddam of trying to hijack the trial with repeated tirades, mirrored by similarly theatrical interjections from al-Tikriti.

But Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi prime minister, insisted the trial was fair, if a little slow.

"I was already sentenced to death three times and this will not be the first"

Saddam Hussein

"We believe the court must remain independent," al-Jaafari said on a visit to Japan. "Our job is to protect that. We do not interfere in the process."

Among the 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 opened on 19 October, followed by a 40-day delay and a two-hour session on 28 November before a week-long adjournment until Monday's hearing.