Insisting he was still Iraq's president, a stubborn Saddam Hussein refused to state his name and refused to recognize the authority of the court.
Saddam and seven members of his former regime could face the death penalty for their alleged roles in the 1982 massacre of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail.
Throughout the three-hour tribunal, a stern head judge reminded the prosecutor, the defense and even Saddam himself that "he" was the one in charge.
The head judge said, "The court is independent and nobody is allowed to interfere."
In the end the top judge, one of five overseeing the tribunal, granted defense attorneys extra time to prepare their case, but the defense says the 40-day delay isn't long enough.
Outside the courtroom Iraqis watched their former leader face his fate and some celebrated in the streets, calling for justice.
The trial is set to resume November 28.
In Washington the White House calls the proceedings a sign that the rule of law is returning to Iraq. A spokesman says President Bush was too busy to watch the trial.