But Saddam, his main lawyers and the six other accused were absent on Monday for proceedings during which Ali Daei, a minor Baath party official from the town of Dujail, denied any crime.

 

The lawyers said they would boycott the toppled Iraqi leader's trial until a series of demands were met, after the third member of their team was killed last month.

 

The defence team said in a statement after the hearing began: "We will suspend our attendance ... from July 10 ... until the following fair demands are met."

 

The six demands included more security and an inquiry into the latest killing.

 

 "The American authorities should be committed to provide adequate protection to the Iraqi lawyers and their families," the statement said.

 

The defence team also rejected as "striking interference in judicial affairs" comments made this month by the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who said he hoped that Saddam would be executed soon.

 

At the start of Monday's session, the chief judge, Raouf Abdel-Rahman, said he had received the defence's requests but dismissed them, saying some were out of the court's purview, others "violate the law." He did not elaborate.

 

Abdel-Rahman expressed his regrets over the slain lawyer, saying the court "strongly condemns any attack against lawyers or against any of those working in this court."

 

He said the court had appointed lawyers to replace those who were not present.

 

In a new security measure, the lawyer's face on Monday was not shown in the television broadcast of the trial and his voice was electronically altered - unlike previous sessions in which the defence lawyers were openly shown.

 

Torture

 

Saddam, his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, and five former Baath party allies face the death sentence if found guilty of crimes against humanity for the killing of 148 Shias in Dujail in 1982.

 

The prosecution has demanded the death penalty for Saddam and three of his former senior aides for their alleged roles in the killings, torture and executions that followed an attempt on the Iraqi leader's life in Dujail.

   

Once final statements have been made, a five-judge panel is expected to adjourn to consider a verdict. Officials close to the court say this could come in September.

   

A death sentence may be delayed by appeals and the many other trials that Saddam is likely to face for alleged crimes during his Sunni-dominated presidency, most of them against the Shias and Kurds now in power.

   

Saddam and his former senior army commanders face a separate trial on August 21 on genocide charges stemming from the killing of tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in a military operation in 1988.

   

Seven defendants, including Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, or "Chemical Ali", will stand trial in the new case.