A Sept. 28 article incorrectly said that MoveOn.org PAC was the sponsor of an upcoming political ad featuring a woman whose son died in Iraq. The ad was made by the liberal group Real Voices with support from MoveOn. (Published 9/29/04)

President Bush accused John F. Kerry yesterday of not knowing "where he stands" on Iraq in a new television ad that splices together footage of seemingly contradictory Kerry comments on the war.

Some of the statements are taken out of context, however, discarding Kerry's criticism of the war and using only phrases in which he was supportive of the administration.

Six hours later, the Democratic presidential nominee released a counterattack spot, charging that the president "still doesn't get it" on Iraq and "has no plan" for quelling the violence there. And in a ratcheting up of the rhetoric, allies of both candidates are running attack ads featuring Osama bin Laden.

The escalating exchanges mark an increasingly personal debate before Thursday's first presidential debate, which will be devoted to foreign policy. In an airwaves battle that erupted over the weekend, an independent conservative group stamped Kerry as weak on terrorists such as bin Laden while the senator accused the Bush campaign of "un-American" tactics.

The Bush ad shows Kerry making various televised comments:

"It was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the president made the decision, I supported him."

"I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have."

"The winning of the war was brilliant."

"It's the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time."

"I have always said we may yet even find weapons of mass destruction." A graphic asks: "How can John Kerry protect us when he doesn't even know where he stands?"

On MSNBC's "Hardball" in May 2003, when Kerry applauded U.S. troops for a "brilliant" winning of the war, he also said a moment earlier that administration officials "clearly have dropped the ball" in the war's aftermath. He added that "you've got to have the capacity to provide law and order on the streets and to provide the fundamental services."

In the "disarm Saddam Hussein" comment that same month, Kerry also said, "I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity."

Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said the Bush team is "using fear and dishonest political tactics to distract voters from the deteriorating situation in Iraq. They've got Googling monkeys at the Bush campaign working overtime, slicing and dicing old quotes and then going into the edit room and pulling them out of context."

Bush spokesman Reed Dickens responded that Kerry aides "don't have the credibility to discuss this issue in the wake of embracing a 10th position" on Iraq. "He's got a new wave of advisers who are trying to embrace his indecision and sell it as a strategy."

In its response ad late yesterday, the Kerry camp recycled a famous line from Ronald Reagan in 1980: "There he goes again. George Bush said Iraq was 'mission accomplished.' Sixteen months later, he still doesn't get it. Today: over 1,000 U.S. soldiers dead, kidnappings, even beheadings of Americans. Still Bush has no plan what to do in Iraq. How can you solve a problem when you can't see it?"

Beyond the charges and images, the nub of the argument is "decisiveness versus truthfulness," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication. "Kerry is trying to hold Bush accountable for how we got into the war and Bush is saying you have no idea of what Kerry would have done or would do in the future and you can't trust him on this issue."

Over the weekend, the conservative 527 group Progress for America Voter Fund released a commercial showing disturbing images of bin Laden, Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and terrorist attacks in Russia, Spain and at the World Trade Center. "Would you trust Kerry against the fanatic killers?" it asked.

The Democratic National Committee responded yesterday with an ad in the same two states -- Iowa and Wisconsin -- that shows the president saying of bin Laden, six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, "wanted, dead or alive." Six months later, Bush is seen saying, "I don't know where he is," followed by 2004 headlines about bin Laden planning further attacks.

The use of Bush's comment that he did not know bin Laden's whereabouts was selective, because the president said in the same answer: "I know the man's on the run, if he's alive at all."

Kerry released an ad Saturday night, quoting a New York Times editorial as accusing the Bush campaign of "despicable politics" and "an un-American way to campaign."

All told, Kerry and the Democrats have put out three response ads in 48 hours, underscoring their determination to quickly return fire but also allowing Bush and his allies to set the parameters of the battle.

MoveOn.org PAC, a liberal ally of Kerry's, plans to join the fray tomorrow with an ad in which the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq tearfully challenges the president's rationale for war.