An official close to the court said the prosecution was expected to present a new report by handwriting experts on Monday as proof that Saddam and other defendants were those who ordered the massacre.

 

The official said the court may take a long break after the prosecution rests before the defence is called to present its case.

 

"It could be a three-week break to allow time for defence to prepare their case," he said.

 

Saddam and seven co-defendants are charged with murder and torture over the execution of 148 Shia from the village of al-Dujail after a failed attempt on the deposed leader's life in 1982.

 

In a previous hearing on April 19, chief judge Rauf Abd al-Rahman ruled after seeing a report that signatures linking the former Iraqi leader to the execution of the Shia were "authentic".

 

"The experts verified these documents, and the signatures of Saddam Hussein were found to be authentic," Abd al-Rahman said.

 

Spotlight

For the past few sessions, the spotlight has been on Saddam's purported signature on documents linking him to the execution of the 148 Shia from al-Dujail village, in which the then banned Dawa party enjoyed influence.

 

The Dawa party, founded in the 1950s, is the oldest of Iraq's Shia political parties and took up arms against Saddam in the late 1970s.

 

It is the party of prime minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki and former premier Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

 

If found guilty, Saddam and the seven others face the death penalty.

 

Saddam has dismissed the evidence, saying the documents were forged, and saying the witnesses testifying against him have been bribed by the prosecution.

 

In some of the earlier hearings, Saddam acknowledged that he had ordered the trial of al-Dujail villagers suspected of plotting to assassinate him, but stopped short of admitting he was responsible for their executions.

 

Saddam's lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi has contested the handwriting report, demanding that a neutral body make a judgment on the authenticity of the signatures.

 

The documents presented by the prosecution came from the Revolutionary Command Council, the former government's highest decision-making body.

 

The prosecution has presented volumes of documents linking the former president and others to the execution, including signed letters ordering the villagers to be tried, jailed and later executed.

 

Murdered lawyers 

 

The trial began in October, but has been marred by the murder of two defence lawyers and the January resignation of the first chief judge, who critics say failed to clamp down on Saddam and his outbursts.

 

International human rights analysts say the trial continues to be conducted well below international legal standards.

 

After the al-Dujail trial, Saddam and six others will also face charges of genocide over the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurds that allegedly left an estimated 100,000 to 180,000 people dead.