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Nic Robertson: 'We didn't want to push our luck'

Brahimi: 'Would not have felt comfortable defying that request'

CNN's Ingrid Formanek, from left, Nic Robertson and Rym Brahimi answer questions after arriving in Jordan from Baghdad.
CNN's Ingrid Formanek, from left, Nic Robertson and Rym Brahimi answer questions after arriving in Jordan from Baghdad.

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IRAQ-JORDAN BORDER (CNN) -- Iraq expelled four CNN journalists from Baghdad -- correspondents Nic Robertson and Rym Brahimi, producer Ingrid Formanek, and camerman Brian Puchaty. They had stayed in the Iraqi capital after many journalists left for safety reasons -- but arrived in Jordan on Saturday.

After crossing the Iraqi-Jordanian border, Robertson, Brahimi, and Formanek spoke to CNN anchor Paula Zahn about their journey out of Iraq and what they left behind.

ROBERTSON: Coming out of Baghdad we saw collateral damage, windows blown out in shops near the presidential area that was very heavily damaged today. As we came out on the streets of Baghdad [we saw] a lot of Baath Party officials, that's the ruling party in Iraq, armed on street corners -- groups of twos, threes, fours, in small trenches, bunkers and many places across the city as we headed toward the edge of the city.

BRAHIMI: When we left the edge of the city it looked quite normal for awhile, though very quiet, as you can imagine. I have to say that just as we left we heard the all-clear sirens. There had been another series of bombings in the morning, just before we left.

ZAHN: Now that you are out of Iraq, are you able to tell us why you were expelled? The Iraqis have done this in the past and you have gotten back in. What happened?

ROBERTSON: Late yesterday afternoon, Iraqi officials told us that they were going to close the CNN office. They said that they were going to tell the CNN team to leave, they told us to leave, but it was late in the day and we said that we wanted to stay, that it was not safe to leave because it was getting dark.

They did not really acquiesce on that issue, they just allowed that to happen. We stayed in the hotel overnight and left early this morning. I think that our expulsion at this time points to the increasing pressure and stress put on the Iraqi leadership at this time, and it looks, at least judging from when we left it, that it is only going to increase at this time.

FORMANEK: Obviously the situation had grown more tense in recent days because of the bombing and officials were feeling the pressure. It has been a great propaganda campaign. All sides want to control the media, as much as possible, and that goes for the Iraqis as well as the Americans.

Their concern was that they were getting their message out, they were increasingly intense as the bombing went on and it just got very much more difficult to work in the days during the bombing. We were not allowed to use our satellite phones from the rooms in our hotel, which made it more difficult to be able to report, but these two guys did a great job in doing that nevertheless.

We were very limited in being able to transmit pictures, all the satellite dishes remained at the Ministry of Information, which was in an area that was bombed heavily in the last few days, so we were unable to go there and transmit pictures and therefore had to rely on phone communications to describe what was going on.

We pointed out that it was in everybody's interest, in CNN's interest, in Iraq's interest, and certainly in the interest of the world and of the American people to see what was going on in Baghdad and have an independent set of eyes and ears to report this.

BRAHIMI: The only other thing that we were able to do was to go out. We were taken, in fact bused, it was an organized bus tour by the Ministry of Information, to a couple of places. One of them was an electricity plant, a power plant, where we were introduced to the minister of electricity, and the point of the visit seemed to be to show us that the electricity network was still up and running and also to show us the human shields that were still there despite the bombing having started and being well under way.

Then we were taken to a couple of hospitals where they showed us some of the people that were injured in the first two days of bombings. But again we were taken back and forth by the authorities there.

ZAHN: Nick, I think that the last time that we saw you in this time period was Thursday, when you very bravely described some of the strategic air strikes that were happening in Baghdad, and you were telling the very specific targets that were hit.

And then fifteen minutes later, when I came back to you, you made it very clear that there was an Iraqi minder standing right beside you, and that even though you had reported all that information that was on the wires, you were not allowed to say that again. Can you explain to us why that happened and what it was that they were so concerned about?

ROBERTSON: The situation became very fluid. The situation changed as we were on air. We were also filming, our cameraman Brian Puchaty was filming the impacts as they were happening. Now, we did have a government official when I was talking with you, when he was filming.

Then, more government officials arrived and took Brian Puchaty's tape out of his camera and began to say things about our reporting, so it was clear that the mood at that stage was already changing. It is not unheard of for Iraqi officials to do this. Back in 1991 they did ban us from reporting on specific strategic military installations, and conveying strategic information, so it was not a surprise.

What perhaps was different last night, when we were not able to communicate with you at all, was that the bombing was much more intense, I know you have all able to see that, but we had an extremely good field of view, and we were able to see what was being hit. It was incredible to see the number of direct hits within the presidential compound in the center of Baghdad, a wide area that covers several square miles, yet as I looked around the city if you moved just away from that presidential area, the civilian areas were not being targeted.

ZAHN: One of things that had been pointed out today by some reporters who were left in Baghdad last night when the "shock and awe" campaign got started was that the biggest concern now is hitting some of the air defense targets, and the problem with that is that some of those are located within population centers.

BRAHIMI: I have seen in the year or so that I have been in Baghdad anti-aircraft systems even on very low buildings, surprising low buildings, and buildings in very residential areas, like the area near the university of Baghdad. They are quite easily visible, I don't think the Iraqis make a huge effort to hide them.

They are also on many government buildings, but a lot of the government buildings are next to residential compounds or groups of buildings, so it would obviously be extremely difficult to target one of those without causing any damage at all to what civilian population is around. the whole of Baghdad is made that way -- government building and next to it a residential compound that homes a lot of the times government employees that work in that building, so it would be something very difficult to achieve in fact.

ZAHN: One final question ... whether you felt at any time, once you were expelled, you felt that your lives were in any danger during this very long road trip?

BRAHIMI: I would not say that we felt our lives were in danger at that point but I would not have felt comfortable defying that request to leave the country.

FORMANEK: Personally, I don't think that equation changed that much after we were expelled but it was made perfectly clear to us that it was in our best interest to leave.

ROBERTSON: I don't think at any point we really felt our lives were in danger, but we didn't also want to push our luck, knowing just how ... erratic the administration in Iraq was beginning to appear to us.


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