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'We were the team that was targeted'

By Brent Sadler

CNN's Brent Sadler in northern Iraq
CNN's Brent Sadler in northern Iraq

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and newsmakers around the world.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Iraqi intelligence agents planned to attack CNN journalists working in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq in March, three months after Iraq's information minister warned of the "severest possible consequences" if CNN were to send reporters to the region, said Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive on Friday.

The plot was uncovered by Kurdish police, who arrested two men who identified themselves as Iraqi intelligence agents. CNN has obtained videotaped confessions in which the men said their superiors in Baghdad asked them to blow up a hotel in Erbil where CNN staff were staying. (Full story)

Brent Sadler is one of the correspondents sent by CNN to northern Iraq. Here, he reports on the plot from his viewpoint as one of the journalists threatened.

NORTHERN IRAQ (CNN) -- We were the team that was targeted. I have been, for the past many months, building up our operations here in northern Iraq to cover the war, to cover the conflict which is now coming to an end.

We were aware, many, many times, of deep Kurdish concerns about our safety. To correspond with those concerns, we went to extraordinary security precautions in terms of placing sandbags [around the hotel] and [hiring] around-the-clock guards, to make sure we had a good chance of withstanding such an attack.

I did see these tapes. I was given access to them several weeks ago. It was 500 kilos, 1,000 pounds of TNT targeted to be used in a machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade attack, that was aimed at blowing us up [and] if not blowing us up, then taking some of us hostage, killing the others, possibly to make it look like an Islamic fundamentalist operation.

This was a detailed plot to take CNN and our reporting ability off the map in northern Iraq in crucial buildup months to the war.

What makes it even worse, like Eason Jordan, our chief news executive, I know many of these officials personally. I know Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf and many of the Iraqi senior level [people] for many, many years. To have this information that they were plotting with agents on the ground to blow us up, to kill us, is obviously very chilling, and has put tremendous stress on all our team members working in extremely difficult conditions and under duress during these critical weeks and months.

I think if you put the pieces together -- the confessions of those agents who, at the end of those tapes, apologize for the deeds they would have done against us -- these are people acting under duress from the old Iraqi regime. I can't say whether Sahaf, the information minister, gave the order. I doubt it because he was not a military man, he was an information man, a propaganda man.

We are talking here about the very core of the old regime -- the intelligence that is at the very heart of that dark regime, which would get involved in all sorts of acts against its own citizens to repress and to keep them from speaking their thoughts and their minds.

The whole game from Iraq's point of view was to keep Western media out of the north and to keep CNN in particular out of the north in the months of the buildup to the war. That would have come from the very highest level of the old Iraqi regime.

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