- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) - The Latest on the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq, Libya and Syria (all times local):

9:15 p.m.

Iran’s defense minister says the Islamic Republic is for a cease-fire in Syria “that doesn’t help terrorists to get more powerful.”

Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan’s comments on Thursday, reported by Iranian news media, follow a meeting between the defense ministers of Iran, Russia and Syria in Tehran.

The other ministers did not comment on a cease-fire in remarks carried by Iranian media. A recent cease-fire in the war-torn country has collapsed.

Iran is a major backer of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. Both Assad and Iran call anyone opposing Syria’s government “terrorists,” whether the Islamic State group or other rebels.

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7:05 p.m.

Iran’s state TV says that Tehran is hosting a trilateral meeting of the Russian, Syrian and Iranian defense ministers to discuss the campaign against terrorism as well as the recent developments in the region.

Thursday’s report says Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Syrian counterpart, Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij, are taking part at the invitation of their Iranian host, Gen. Hossein Dehghan.

Iran and Russia are the main backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Tehran has provided the Syrian government with military and political backing for years. A number of Iranian soldiers have been killed in Syria, including high-ranking officers.

Iran says its military forces have an advisory role in support of Assad’s forces in the fight against extremist Islamic State group.

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-This update has been corrected to show that the Iranian minister’s family name is Dehghan, not Dehqan.

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4:00 p.m.

Iraqi officials say the death toll from two suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State group has risen to 31, with 78 people wounded.

Police say the deadliest attack Thursday took place in a commercial area of a majority Shiite neighborhood, where 19 civilians were killed and 46 were wounded.

They added that another suicide car bomber attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint north of Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 32.

Seven civilians and five troops were killed in the attack in Taji town, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the capital.

Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the press.

The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the IS claims, but they were posted on websites commonly used by the extremists

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3:00 p.m.

The U.S. military says a second carrier group is nearing the Mediterranean Sea to bolster operations, the first time two American carriers will be in those waters at the same time since the 2003 Iraq invasion.

U.S. European Command spokesman Lt. Col. David Westover said Thursday the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group of guided missile cruisers and destroyers was now in EUCOM’s area of responsibility in the Atlantic en route to the Mediterranean.

It joins the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group already in the Mediterranean.

U.S. 6th Fleet spokesman Lt. Shawn Eklund says U.S. warships are there to carry out anti-Islamic State actions and to reassure European allies.

He says: “When we put carriers in place, it sends a signal.”

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2:30 p.m.

In the militant-held town of Fallujah about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraqi forces on Thursday are clearing territory recently retaken from the Islamic State group. Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces secured the southern edge of Fallujah on Sunday and pushed into the city itself Wednesday.

Under heavy IS counter-attacks, Iraqi troops swept east across Fallujah’s southern Shuhada neighborhood. The militant group launched mortars and rockets on Iraqi forces that were operating under the cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

The operation to retake Fallujah was announced in late May. It has been under the control of the militant group for longer than any other territory in Iraq, and the city has proven a complex target as IS has had more than two years to dig in and erect defensive positions.

- Susannah George in Camp Tariq, near Fallujah, Iraq

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12:50 p.m.

A French official has confirmed that French special forces are offering training and advice to fighters in northern Syria.

The official with the French Defense Ministry said Thursday the forces are with the Syria Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led coalition that is fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. He did not provide other details.

In a round-table interview last week, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French forces were participating. “We are helping with arms, we are helping with aerial support, we are helping with advice,” he said.

The U.S. also has around 300 Special Forces embedded with the SDF in northern Syria

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12:45 p.m.

A media official with forces allied to the U.N.-brokered government in Libya says Islamic State group militants are being cornered inside their headquarters, a conference center in the central Libyan town of Sirte.

Ahmed Hadiya, the head of the media center of the anti-IS operation, told The Associated Press Thursday that forces advancing from the west and south most recently dismantled the main stage in Zafarana square, where according to Human Rights Watch at least 49 people were shot, beheaded or crucified by the militants.

Hadiya says that the forces - which are mostly from the western city of Misrata - are preparing for an offensive to seize the Ouagadougou conference center.

Hadiya and the U.N.-backed government say at least 130 people have been killed and 400 injured in the battle for Sirte.

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12:15 p.m.

U.S.-backed fighters have closed all major roads leading to the northern Syrian town of Manbij, a stronghold of the Islamic State group, and have surrounded it from three sides.

A statement by the Military Council of the City of Manbij, which is part of the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces, said Thursday that all roads from the east, north and south have been cut.

The group says they are now close enough to target IS inside the town but they are holding off storming Manbij to avoid civilian casualties.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says SDF fighters are about 800 meters (yards) from the last main road linking Manbij with the city of Aleppo, saying that road is now closed by fire.

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12:00 a.m.

Libyan media officials say a former minister was among the 15 militia fighters killed while trying to push toward the center of the Islamic State group stronghold of Sirte in central Libya.

Ahmed Hadiya, head of the media center of the anti-IS operation room, said Thursday that some IS fighters were shaving off their beards and long hair in order to flee the central Libyan city under cover.

The fight against IS in Sirte, which has been led by militiamen from the coastal city of Misrata, has intensified in recent weeks. Libyan forces said Wednesday that they had advanced deep inside the IS-held city.

Abdel-Rahman al-Kissa, a former minister of martyrs, was among those killed.

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10:00 a.m.

Iraqi officials say a car bombing in a commercial area of a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad has killed at least 15 civilians.

A police officer says Thursday’s explosion in the district of New Baghdad in the Iraqi capital also wounded up to 35 civilians. He says that the explosives-laded car was parked in a crowded area and that the casualty figures could be higher.

A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the press.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group, often targets Iraq’s Shiite majority. The Iraqi capital has seen near-daily attacks in recent weeks.

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