Muhammad Uraibi al-Khalifa cut off the microphone as Saddam attempted to speak. He then pointed to court bailiffs to escort the ex-president from the courtroom.

Saddam interrupted the proceedings by shouting a verse from the Quran.

Saddam shouted "fight them and God will punish them" in what appeared to be a call for members of his disbanded Baath party to continue fighting US forces in Iraq.

The judge then closed the proceedings to the media.

Punch thrown

The judge told Saddam's six co-defendants that he had been patient with them, but they were obstructing the trial.

He said: "I allowed you to say what you want, but you've been making problems."

Hussain Rashid Muhammad, a defendant, stood up and shouted insults at the prosecutors.

When a bailiff forced him back into his chair, the former army commander punched him. The judge then had Muhammad thrown out and closed the session.

Women raped

Saddam and his co-defendants have pleaded innocent to charges of genocide against Iraq's Kurdish population during a crackdown, code named Operation Anfal, in the late 1980s in which about 180,000 people were killed.

In Tuesday's hearing, the court heard a Kurdish woman, who testified from behind a curtain to conceal her identity, recount that women were raped and children died in detention during the 1988 campaign.

The woman, who spent six and a half months in detention, also said that Saddam's forces used chemicals against the detainees.

She said: "One evening, men walked into our detention hall, wearing [chemical] suits and masks and sprayed us with a material that caused the spread of lice and other diseases, like bronchial coughing. Many children died as a result."

The witness also testified that pregnant women were treated inhumanely. She said one woman had given birth in a toilet.

Fellow detainees helped her to "cut the umbilical cord with broken glass and the baby was wrapped in a grain sack."

She said all her family members disappeared in 1988 and were presumed dead.