The United States is safer now than it was before the September 11 attacks, but must not relent in fighting terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday. "I think it's clear that we are safe - safer - but not really yet safe," Rice said. "We've done a lot. In terms of homeland, we're more secure. Our ports are more secure. Our airports are more secure. We have a much stronger intelligence sharing operation," said Rice, who was President George W. Bush's national security adviser when al-Qaida perpetrated the attacks of September 11, 2001. Rice defended the invasion of Iraq and the ouster of President Saddam Hussein despite persistent questions about any evidence of a link to the attacks. She said "Iraq is going through very difficult times" but said the US must help create an environment there that does not allow extremism to flourish. "It's hard to imagine that different kind of environment with Saddam Hussein in power and Iraq at the center of a nexus between terrorism and conflict," Rice said on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the attacks. Democrat Richard Ben-Veniste, also a commission member, said the war in Iraq "has been a recruiting poster for jihadists throughout the Muslim world, and there are far more terrorists now than there were on 9/11. The Iraq invasion and occupation had nothing to do with terrorism. It had nothing to do with 9-11."