A court spokesman said the postponement to Sunday was due to witnesses failing to appear, but Saddam's lawyer contested that and blamed it on disarray after the resignation of Rizgar Amin, the chief judge.

 

Amin had complained of government meddling, and allegations that the judge's deputy had ties to the ousted Baath party.

 

A court officer said tensions within the US-sponsored tribunal over the reshuffle on the bench, which now features just two of the five judges who began the trial three months ago, had contributed to delays.

 

"It's very sensitive," he said, asking not to be named.

 

Court in disarray

 

Khalil al-Dulaimi, the lead defence attorney, said: "This is just an excuse to cover up the state of turmoil and chaos in the court. The court did not know from where or how to start the session ... The court is in disarray ... after the resignations of the judges and enormous political interference."

 

"The court is in disarray ... after the resignations of the judges and enormous political interference"

Khalil al-Dulaimi,
lead defence attorney

 

Khamis al-Ubaidi, another defence lawyer, said Rauf Abd al-Rahman, the new chief judge, who was appointed only on Monday, chose to scrap the first hearing in a month to avoid a televised argumentative match.

 

Al-Ubaidi told Reuters: "The bench felt things would get out of hand if the session went ahead so they postponed it."

 

Absent witnesses

 

After reporters had waited for four hours without word for the hearing to begin, Raed Jouhi, the High Tribunal spokesman, said: "Some witnesses are abroad, so the 1st Trial Chamber has decided to delay the session until Sunday, 29 January."

 

Some of the witnesses, he said, were on the Hajj pilgrimage - which ended in Makka about 10 days ago.

 

Jaafar al-Mussawi, the chief prosecutor, said that although some witnesses were ready, others, known as plaintiff witnesses who are seeking compensation, had to be heard first and were absent.

 

If they did not show up on Sunday, their written statements would be submitted to the court instead, al-Mussawi told Reuters.