“I call on all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, to forgive, reconcile and shake hands,” he said on Tuesday, two days after another panel sentenced him to death for crimes against humanity.
Saddam, wearing a black suit and white shirt with a handkerchief, entered the court and took his seat quietly among the other six defendants.
On Sunday, the Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced him to death by hanging for ordering the killing of 148 Shias from the village of Dujail in the 1980s.
The seven men are charged with carrying out a genocide against Iraq’s Kurds during the Anfal military campaign of the late 1980s.
Once the defendants had arrived, the chief judge then convened the session and called the first of four witnesses, Qahar Khalil Mohammed.
Mohammad told the court he and other villagers had surrendered to Iraqi soldiers after being promised that Saddam had issued an amnesty.
Instead, he said, they were lined up at the bottom of a hill and soldiers opened fire.
“I saw my father and two brothers had been killed as well as 18 of my other relatives”
Qahar Khalil Mohammed, witness
“When they fired in our direction we all fell to the ground,” he said.
“I saw my father and two brothers had been killed as well as 18 of my other relatives.”
He was wounded but managed to survive, Mohammad said, pointing to a bullet wound scar on his forehead in court.
Saddam later challenged the testimony, asking: “There is nobody to check this testimony. Who supports his claim? Nobody. Will that way lead us to the truth?”
On Sunday, another five-judge panel convicted Saddam of ordering the death of nearly 150 Shia Muslims after a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail.
He and two others were sentenced to death by hanging. Four co-defendants received lesser sentences and one was acquitted.
Subject to appeal
The Dujail case is subject to appeal, and the Anfal genocide trial will continue while the appeal is under way.
On Monday, the chief prosecutor said the nine-judge appeals panel would rule on Saddam’s appeal against his death sentence by mid-January.
That could set in motion a possible execution by mid-February.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Shia and Sunnis traded mortar attacks on Baghdad neighbourhoods across the Tigris, killing 22, as police found the bodies of 15 torture victims in the river south of the capital.
The fatalities took place in attacks in hostile neighbouring areas of Baghdad after dark – 17 killed by a suicide bomber in a cafe in the Shia neighbourhood, Greyat, and five by mortars falling on the Sunni district, Adhamiya.
Separately, authorities reported finding the bullet-riddled bodies of 15 apparent death squad victims floating in the Tigris south of Baghdad, all blindfolded and bound at the wrists and ankles.
The victims apparently were tortured before being shot to death.
Meanwhile, four officials in the Iraqi government and parliament, each in a position to hear about largely secret efforts to reach accord with members of the Sunni anti-government campaign, said al-Douri, Saddam’s former vice president, has ordered Baath party bosses still in Iraq to end attacks within the past two days.
The officials, who said they knew about the order independently because of their contacts with members of the movement, said the directive was issued through couriers sometime after Saddam was sentenced on Sunday to hang for crimes against humanity.
The four answered questions from the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.
It was impossible to verify the statements independently.
At the same time, leading Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said two Sunni mosques had been destroyed by militias in the past two days and it blamed the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for failing to protect them.
Another Sunni party, the Conference of Iraqi People, said it was “seriously considering” withdrawing from al-Maliki’s unity government over attacks it blamed on Shia militias.
In other news, 17 US marine reservists just back from Iraq have been ordered to remain at Camp Lejeune while allegations of misconduct during their deployment are investigated, a spokesman said oon Tuesday.
Lieutenant-Colonel Curtis Hill, a marine spokesman, gave no details on the nature of the allegations other than to say they were levelled against 17 members of Bravo Company of the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, Dam Security Unit-2, of Jacksonville, Florida.
He said the marines were assigned to Camp Lejeune to assist in the investigation but were not under any restrictions.
A US soldier died on Monday after a roadside bomb attack on his vehicle in Baghdad, taking the US military death toll in Iraq to 2,837. A British soldier was also killed on Monday.