NASHVILLE — President Bush delivered a rousing defense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Tuesday, mixing faith and foreign policy as he told a group of Christian broadcasters that his policies in the region are predicated on the beliefs that freedom is a God-given right and that "every human being bears the image of their master."
With the fifth anniversary of his invasion of Iraq coming next week and a decision on troop cuts in Iraq on his plate, Bush used a speech before the National Religious Broadcasters Association to state that liberty is on the march, so long as the United States keeps its nerve.
"The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency," he said. "It is the right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision."
The speech was the first in a series of three talks that Bush will deliver to set the agenda for the upcoming congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top U.S. diplomat there.
The two are expected on Capitol Hill in April to deliver an update on the progress of Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, and to offer recommendations about further troop reductions. With the nation's attention turned to the race to succeed Bush, his advisers want the president, rather than the presidential candidates, to frame the discussion.
Bush's talk was punctuated with occasional shouts of amen and frequent applause as he predicted that freedom and democracy would spread from Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the region. "We believe that every human being bears the image of our master; that's why we're doing this," he said. "No one is fit to be a master, and no one is fit to be a slave."
U.S. soldiers killed: The U.S. military said a total of eight American soldiers were killed in Iraq on Monday. It had reported Monday that five soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber while on foot patrol in central Baghdad. The three deaths it reported Tuesday were caused by a roadside bomb in Diyala province.
42 Iraqis killed: At least 42 people were killed across Iraq Tuesday, including 16 bus passengers caught in a roadside bombing in southern Iraq.
U.S.-Iraq talks: U.S. State Department and Iraqi foreign ministry officials opened negotiations Tuesday over formal arrangements for a long-term relationship in the political, economic and security fields.
U.N. official's complaint: U.N. torture investigator Manfred Nowak said Tuesday that American officials are refusing him access to U.S.-run detention facilities. "The U.K. said yes, the U.S. said no," Nowak told reporters in Geneva. U.S. officials said they could not comment immediately.
British war costs rise: Britain's House of Commons Defense Committee said Monday that spending on campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan would be just under $6.6-billion this year, a 94 percent increase over last year. Separately, defense officials said they may not be able to slash troop levels in Iraq to 2,500 by the summer.