CNN News, having scored another exclusive with Peter Arnett's interview of Saddam Hussein, was scrambling yesterday to get new equipment in place so that the videotape of the conversation could be broadcast this morning. A five-person crew arrived in Baghdad by caravan with a portable satellite transmitter but did not yet have it up and running last night.

Arnett said his conversation with Saddam, who was "dressed in an impeccable blue suit and a pretty tie," lasted about 90 minutes. Whether the entire interview will be aired is a question of "editorial judgments that we would make," according to Cable News Network President Tom Johnson.

The discussion was recorded by three cameras from Iraqi television, the usual practice when the Iraqi leader grants an interview, according to Ed Turner, CNN's executive vice president for news gathering. Arnett was not permitted to take notes.

Arnett reported at about 2:30 p.m. EST that he had met with Saddam but did not disclose the content of the talk -- other than to describe it as "chilling" -- until after he reviewed a tape.

CNN officials said there were technical difficulties and audio problems with the subsequent transmission of Arnett's summary of the interview. His live account of the interview highlights came 3 1/2 hours later, at 6:08 p.m. EST. (For a transcript of his report, see Page A10.)

Initially, Arnett reported that he had been told of the possible interview about 4 p.m. Iraq time when a ministry of information official called him and said he would be meeting "someone important in the immediate future." Arnett said he "went downstairs and some security people gave me a thorough frisking."

He was driven to a suburb that he did not recognize to a small bungalow that "looked like every other house in the neighborhood." Saddam appeared after about an hour and a half and was "cordial," Arnett said in his first report.

CNN noted repeatedly that the Arnett broadcasts had been approved by Iraqi censors, but Turner said Arnett has told CNN officials that the Iraqis have been "light-handed."

"He may edit out in his mind certain things, but to the best of our knowledge he has not been censored on the air during transmission," Turner said. "There has been a loss of signal that he explains as atmospherics. If it's different from that, we'll have to wait for his return" to find out.

Turner said the network does not know how long Arnett and the five newly arrived CNN staffers will stay in Baghdad. The others who arrived by caravan yesterday include Vito Maggiolo, normally CNN's assignment editor in Washington. He will function as a producer in Baghdad, as he previously has in such trouble spots as Panama, Beijing and Colombia.

The rest of the group consists of Margaret Lourie, a producer-correspondent from the Chicago bureau with experience as a CBS bureau chief in Cairo; engineer Nik Robertson, who was with Arnett during the Jan. 16 attack on Baghdad; and camera operators Sergi Bodi and David Rush.

Those five were among about 25 volunteers who asked to go to Baghdad, Turner said. The news service chose "people who have stood up well under pressure," people with "maturity {and} experience in the region," he added.

Asked whether it was essential to send five additional people to Baghdad, Turner said he could "easily use 10 or 12 people" to operate the unwieldy "flyaway," as the portable satellite transmitter is called. "It's portable, but not very," he said. He added that the group brought Arnett some help in covering the story and "other necessities, including ... fresh shirts."

He said CNN negotiated with Iraqi officials over the number that would be permitted to come. "We kind of pushed and they kind of pushed," he said. The group made its way in a four-vehicle caravan through snow from Amman, Jordan, according to a CNN spokeswoman.

Turner said he saw a tape of the vans, which had "CNN" in large letters on the roofs and the sides. "It did not conform to the corporate logo," Turner said wryly, adding that the convoy had a circuslike look with "bright splashes of color."

While operating from Baghdad creates obvious risks, ranging from the dangers of war to the possibility of being used as a propaganda vehicle, the network will stay put, Turner said. "The story is in Baghdad," he said. "If you have an opportunity to report from there, it seems to me you have to do your best to accept it. Yes, there's risk involved and these {employees} know it."

Asked whether CNN has any parameters on when to pull out its personnel, Turner replied, "That's a good question and a hell of a dilemma." As for the logistics of evacuating its employees, Turner said, "It's not something we're anxious to discuss."

Turner also said he could accept the possibility that the interview would add to concern about CNN being used to disseminate propaganda. "I think there's no doubt that {the Iraqis} see us as being a vehicle to tell their side of the story and their viewpoint, as witness this interview," he said. "That's okay as long as we understand that and couch it in those terms."