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A company of Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions Tuesday night in Sadr City, defying U.S. soldiers who implored them to hold the line against Shiite militias, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The retreat left a crucial stretch of road on the front lines undefended for hours, the Times wrote.

Capt. Logan Veath, commander of Company B in the 25th Infantry Division, pleaded with the Iraqi major who was leading some 50 of his troops away from the Sadr City fight, urging him to return to the front, the paper reported.

“If you turn around and go back up the street those soldiers will follow you,” Veath said. “If you tuck tail and cowardly run away they will follow up that way, too.”

Veath’s pleas failed, and U.S. and Iraqi commanders mounted an urgent effort to regain lost ground, the Times wrote.

Two weeks ago, more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers deserted during the fight against militias in Basra.

According to the times, the latest episode began when Maj. Sattar, the leader of an Iraqi company that had taken up positions 700 yards in front of the Americans, showed up at Company B’s field headquarters.

When he arrived, Sattar said many of his soldiers had deserted after other Iraqi army commanders failed to send reinforcements, the Times wrote. He complained that he had no means to communicate directly with American troops.

Sattar said he was leading the rest of his 80-man company away from the fight.

The U.S. military said the New York Times report was factual and the Baghdad command would address the issue.

Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a military spokesman in Baghdad, called it “a snapshot of one area where U.S. soldiers are in close support of their Iraqi counterparts” and stressed that it is a new army and Iraqi soldiers and national police are taking casualties daily in fighting in other areas.

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