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Iraqi Shiite fighters of Balad provide bulwark for Baghdad
Iraqi Shiite fighters of Balad provide bulwark for Baghdad

The Shiite militia commander, slight of build and decked out in green fatigues, views the checkpoint that he oversees as much more than an isolated outpost amid the endless palm groves of the Tigris River valley. "We are the forward defensive line for Baghdad," said the militiaman, who gave his name as Abu Ali, as he stood with comrades at a battered intersection where the charred remains of shops and a gas station attest to recent combat. The town of Balad, about 50 miles north of the capital, has emerged as a key bulwark in the defense of Baghdad from Sunni Muslim insurgents allied with the Islamic State, an Al Qaeda breakaway faction. Just as it was during the U.S.-led...

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