Defending President Bush's foreign policies, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (searchcounseled Americans to be "less critical of every twist and turn" in Iraq.

"We need to be more patient with people who are making those early steps" toward a working multiethnic democracy, Rice said Thursday as U.S. troops fought a bloody battle with insurgents in the slums of Baghdad and Iraqi forces searched for ways to subdue insurgent militias in Najaf (search).

Rice said it took the United States a long time to achieve democratic goals.

And so far, said Rice, an African-American, Iraq's postwar leaders have not made a compromise comparable to the one by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, who "made my ancestors three-fifths of a man."

She was referring to the provision in the Constitution that designated slaves as three-fifths of a person in calculating the population of states for elections to Congress. The slaves also were denied the vote.

Democracy does not happen overnight, Rice said in a speech and news conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a government-funded think tank.

Prompted by a question about those Kurds in Iraq who seek an independent state, Rice said democracies tend to lessen needs for a "full break" between the various ethnic groups in the country.

"If I could say one thing to all of us in the United States of America, who live in a democracy that is 230 years old, it is that we need to be both more patient with people who are making these early steps, less critical of every twist and turn, less certain that every up and down is going to collapse the process, and more humble on about long it has taken us to get to a multiethnic democracy that works," Rice said.

The White House official, considered a potential secretary of state if Bush wins a second term, said Americans ought to be "less certain that every up and down is going to collapse the process."

Her appearance followed a series of cable television interviews in what appears to be a campaign to employ the usually offstage and sometimes off-the-record senior official as a spirited campaign spokeswoman for the president.

On the Arab-Israeli conflict, Rice called for an end to Israel's "occupation," without specifying whether she meant giving up East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank and the Golan Heights on top of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (searchplanned withdrawal from Gaza.

The State Department, meanwhile, indicated the administration would support Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (searchif he decided to direct Iraqi forces to storm a mosque in Najaf that insurgent militia are using as a sanctuary.

"It's unacceptable in a democratic Iraq, in a sovereign Iraq, that groups such as these take over holy sites, fire on innocents and arrogate for themselves the power of the central government," deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.

"Our role is to support Prime Minister Allawi and his government as they work to establish government control over the territory of Iraq and against those elements such as the Mahdi militia who are intent on using violence to pursue their objectives," Ereli said.

He also read a statement by Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), who was away on vacation, marking the first anniversary of the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian diplomat who Powell called a "dear friend," was among the victims.

"The international community will not be deterred by the immoral act of a year ago," Powell said. "The United States remains steadfast in its support for the United Nations mission in Iraq. We will continue to work side by side as partners."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), at an anniversary ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, said the United States was conducting an investigation of the attack and that "we are still waiting for answers."

"However long it takes, I pray that the perpetrators are held to account and do not get away with this cold-blooded murder," Annan said.