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Sadler: 'Administrative vacuum' in liberated north

CNN's Brent Sadler, pictured next to a destroyed image of Saddam Hussein, in northern Iraq.

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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KALAR, Iraq (CNN) -- Kurds flooded into oil-rich Kirkuk in northern Iraq Thursday after Peshmergas entered the city without so much as a shot fired by Iraqi defenders.

But U.S. Special Forces supporting the Kurdish troops are spread thinly, CNN Correspondent Brent Sadler told Anchor Judy Woodruff from nearby Kalar. (Full story)

A battalion from the 173rd Airborne Brigade had been sent to reinforce U.S. and Kurdish forces, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said at Thursday's Pentagon briefing.

WOODRUFF: Their entry into the city sparked wild celebrations [there] -- and some fairly frantic diplomacy between the United States and Turkey, whose citizens, frankly, shudder at the thought of the Kurds securing power.

SADLER: The plans were -- according to Kurdish leaders I was speaking to before the onset of conflict -- that if they did get the chance to go in there, they would really be there for the first hours or days to prevent anarchy breaking out in these northern cities, and then pretty soon hand over to an administration headed, they hoped, by the United States.

Let me just take a look now with you at one of the liberated towns. In fact, the first of the major northern towns to fall to Iraqi Kurdish fighters under the banner of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a new face in this town called Khanaqin, about 80 miles north of Baghdad. The face of one of the chief Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talibani, had been paraded through the town.

The town [was] overrun by Peshmerga fighters, and really [it was] a day of happiness, many of them tell me... some of these people kissing us and saying 'thank you, thank you for liberating us.' And indeed, specific praise and thanks to President George W. Bush. Many Iraqi Kurds in this town are praising the U.S. president for bringing about these monumental changes.

Now, as the monumental changes I'm referring to take place in a ripple effect right across the country, we need to focus on what's happening in terms of stabilizing these newly liberated areas.

When I went into Khanaqin earlier today, very soon after it came under Kurdish Peshmerga control, I saw U.S. Special Forces moving into position, one of them on a truck-mounted machine gun, speeding into the town. These are the same troops who have been, for the past several weeks, bringing in airstrikes against Iraqi military targets in many parts of the northern front.

The problem we have on the ground here is that these U.S. forces are spread very thinly indeed, and I saw them take up positions in the center of Khanaqin around the former governor's office, and really they were just setting up communications, observing scenes in which I saw some of the citizens disputing property rights, arguing and really looking to the American soldiers to act as adjudicators.

The soldiers on the ground here have no political role, and at the moment, there is an administrative vacuum on the streets of many of these northern, newly liberated areas.

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