Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry charged today that President Bush has failed to level with the American people about worsening conditions in Iraq, taking refuge instead in a "fantasy world of spin" in which his own intelligence briefings are ignored and U.S. national security is colored by politics.

Kerry also accused the Bush administration of setting back the war on terrorism by diverting its attention from Afghanistan and allowing Osama bin Laden, the Saudi fugitive in charge of the al Qaeda terrorist network, to escape and remain at large.

The senator from Massachusetts made the remarks to a convention in Las Vegas of the National Guard Association of the United States, a veterans group that Bush addressed two days earlier.

Bush "failed the fundamental test of leadership" and "failed to tell you the truth," Kerry told the gathering, which had received Bush enthusiastically but gave the Democrat polite applause today. Kerry pledged that if he wins the Nov. 2 election against Bush, "I will always be straight with you -- on the good days and the bad days."

Bush had described Kerry to the association as inconsistent on Iraq, highlighting what he said were Kerry's varying positions on the invasion of that country and the subsequent U.S. occupation. He said it was critical that "the president of the United States speak clearly and consistently at this time of great threat in our world and not change positions because of expediency or pressure."

Campaigning today in Minnesota, Bush said Kerry "has probably had about eight positions on Iraq." He added, "Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our troops in the field, the Iraqi people, to our allies, and -- most of all -- to our enemies."

In his address to the National Guard group, Kerry said, "Two days ago, the president stood right where I'm standing and did not even acknowledge that more than 1,000 men and women have lost their lives in Iraq. He did not tell you that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings. He did not tell you that with each passing week, our enemies are actually getting bolder, that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists."

Kerry said, "I believe you deserve a president who isn't going to gild that truth, or gild our national security with politics, who is not going to ignore his own intelligence. . . ." The country deserves a president "who will give the American people the truth, not a fantasy world of spin," Kerry said.

He said Bush "has made serious mistakes in taking us to war in Iraq." The president was "wrong to rush to war" without giving U.N. weapons inspectors enough time to do their jobs, without "understanding and planning for the post-war in Iraq," without assembling sufficient backing from U.S. allies and without properly equipping U.S. troops, Kerry said.

And Bush was "wrong to ignore the best advice of America's own military, including his own Army chief of staff, Gen. [Eric K.] Shinseki, who told him how many troops we would need and found himself retired early."

"Perhaps worst of all, the mess in Iraq, by the judgment of many, has set us back in terms of the war on terror," Kerry said. "The simple fact is that when it comes to the war on terror, this administration has taken its eye off the ball."

Bin Laden had been "cornered" in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan in late 2001, but "instead of staying the course . . . George Bush turned over critical military operations in Tora Bora to a band of warlords," Kerry said. "As a result, Osama bin Laden escaped, and we haven't seen him since."