President Bush said Monday that the United States is fighting a "just war" that does not seek the destruction of Iraq.

"We seek nothing for ourselves," Bush said.In a speech to religious broadcasters, Bush repeatedly described the conflict in moral terms. "It has nothing to with religion, per se," he said. "It has, on the other hand, everything to do with what religion embodies: good vs. evil, right vs. wrong.

"Every war is fought for reasons but a just war is fought for the right reasons," he added.

Looking to the future, Bush said, "We do not want a country so destabilized that Iraq itself could be the target of aggression. We do not seek the destruction of Iraq.

"We have respect for the people of Iraq."

Bush said the United States had made every effort to resolve the Persian Gulf crisis peacefully but Saddam Hussein rejected all overtures. "He made this just war an inevitable war," Bush said.

He denounced Saddam's lobbing of Scud missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia, saying they had no military value and only outraged the world.

He said the United States and its allies "are doing everything possible to avoid hurting the innocent."

Bush told the National Association of Religious Broadcasters that "when this war is over, the United States, its credibility and its reliability restored, will have a key leadership role in bringing peace to the Middle East."

Acknowledging dissent to the war, including some among clergymen, Bush said, "I know some disagree with the course we've taken. I am convinced that we are doing the right thing."

"The first principle of a just war is that it supports a just cause," he said. "And our cause could not be more noble."

Senior administration officials said Sunday that the president had ruled out seeking a tax increase at this time to finance the war.

"We expect this to be manageable because we expect to have substantial foreign contributions," budget director Richard Darman told CBS's "Face the Nation."

White House chief of staff John Sununu, interviewed on ABC-TV's "This Week with David Brinkley," said those contributions now total between $30 billion and $40 billion - including a $13.5 billion pledge from Saudi Arabia announced Saturday by Baker.