The chief judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial said Thursday that he did not believe the former Iraqi leader was a dictator.
Judge Abdullah al-Amiri made his remark in a friendly chat with Saddam during court proceedings — a day after the prosecution asked him to step down, alleging bias toward the defendants.
Meanwhile, the sectarian violence continued Thursday, as car bombs and drive-by shootings on Thursday killed at least 21 people and wounded dozens of others in a series of attacks around central Iraq.
"Some believe the battle for Baghdad is already under way and no one seems to be able to stop the killing," reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.
In other developments:
Saddam was questioning a 57-year-old Kurdish witness, who testified that the ex-president aggressively told him to "shut up" when he pleaded for the release of nine missing relatives nearly two decades ago.
"I wonder why this man (the witness) wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator?" Saddam asked.
The judge interrupted: "You were not a dictator. People around you made you (look like) a dictator."
"Thank you," Saddam responded, bowing his head in respect.
A Shiite Muslim with 25 years experience, al-Amiri was a member of Saddam's Baath party and served as a judge in a criminal court under the former leader's regime. He heads the five-judge panel overseeing Saddam's trial on charges of committing atrocities against Kurds in northern Iraq nearly two decades ago.
On Wednesday, Chief Prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon demanded al-Amiri to step down, accusing him of bias toward the deposed leader and his co-defendants.
"You allowed this court to become a political podium for the defendants," al-Faroon told al-Amiri.
The prosecutor said the judge was giving Saddam the time to make "political" statements that were irrelevant to the proceedings.
"For instance yesterday, instead of taking legal action (against Saddam), you asked his permission to talk," al-Faroon said. "The action of the court leans toward the defendants."
Thursday's attacks came after day that was bloody even by Baghdad's standards, when car bombs, mortars and other attacks killed at least 39 people and wounded dozens on Wednesday. Police also uncovered the tortured bodies of 65 men dumped in and around the capital.
In the first attack, a car bomb targeting a police patrol in a Shiite neighborhood of northern Baghdad missed, instead killing a civilian and wounding 13 others, police said.
Another car bomb then blew up bear the government's passport office in central Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 17. The injured included four police officers,said police Lt. Bilal Ali.
The blast created a large crater in the street in front of the office, destroyed at least three cars, scattered debris and knocked down the walls of a neighboring house, Associated Press television news footage showed.
Gunmen in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killed two police officers in a drive-by shooting. Another group of gunmen shot and killed three people in Ghazaniya, just north of Baqouba.
Iraqi police also found the body of a brigadier in the former Iraqi army two days after he was kidnapped Mahmoudiya, 19 miles south of Baghdad, said Cap. Udai Abdel-Rihda.
Later, a roadside bomb killed six people and wounded 13 others near a soccer field in Fallujah, police said. Two of those killed were children.
The attacks in Baghdad have come despite a massive month-long security operation by thousands of American and Iraqi troops around the capital aimed mostly at stopping the killings carried out by Sunni and Shiite death squads.
"If that coalition government can't get stronger, the politicians will start splintering and siding with their own ethnic groups. That would mean all-out civil war," Michal O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said on CBS News' The Early Show. "We really are in the final few months of hope before this mission verges on complete failure."