BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq said on Friday a visiting Congress delegation was "not welcome" in the country, citing reports its leader called on Baghdad to pay compensation to Washington for years of war since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Iraqi officials said Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher told reporters during a visit on Friday that Baghdad should repay billions of dollars Washington had spent on the Iraq war.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad could not be reached for comment and the congressman's comments could not be confirmed independently.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Rohrabacher's reported comments were "irresponsible."
"Those people are not welcome in Iraq. They are raising a controversial issue which influences the strategic relation between us and the United States," he said.
"They are asking for compensation for the war and we are not committed to pay anything to any of the people who participated in the invasion of Iraq," he told Reuters.
Dabbagh said Rohrabacher had not expressed this opinion when he met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
He added he had called the U.S. embassy in Iraq when he learned of the congressman's comments at the news conference but was told by the embassy that Rohrabacher's statement represented his own opinion and not the official position of the United States.
The Iraqi government irritation at the U.S. congressman's comments came at a time when Iraqi leaders are debating whether to ask U.S. troops in Iraq to stay beyond the deadline for a withdrawal at the end of the year.
Dabbagh said a meeting headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani could be held next week to discuss the sensitive issue of a continued U.S. military presence in the country beyond 2011, among other issues.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama's pick to be the new defense secretary, outgoing CIA chief Leon Panetta, said he expected Iraq to eventually ask Washington to keep U.S. troops in the country beyond the year-end.
U.S. forces in Iraq halted combat operations last year and the remaining 47,000 American troops are due to pull out by December 31 under a 2008 bilateral security accord.
While overall violence has fallen sharply in Iraq since the peak of sectarian warfare in 2006-2007, Iraqi security forces continue to fight a weakened but still lethal insurgency. Bombings and other attacks occur daily.
The total of U.S. military casualties in Iraq since 2003 stands at 4,459, according to the icasualties.org website.
In the biggest single loss of life since 2009, five U.S. soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on a Baghdad base on Monday and another U.S. soldier was killed in southern Iraq on Wednesday, the U.S. military said.