Shortly after Allawi, the interim government's prime minister, gave a rosy portrayal of progress toward peace in Iraq, Kerry said the assessment contradicted Allawi's own statements as well as the reality on the ground.
"I think the prime minister is, obviously, contradicting his own statement of a few days ago, where he said the terrorists are pouring into the country," said Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee.
"The prime minister and the president are here obviously to put their best face on the policy, but the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story."
Kerry was referring to comments Allawi made Sunday on ABC's "This Week." But Allawi also expressed optimism about the mission in that appearance.
"Foreign terrorists are still pouring in, and they're trying to inflict damage on Iraq to undermine Iraq and to undermine the process, democratic process in Iraq, and, indeed, this is their last stand," Allawi said. "So they are putting a very severe fight on Iraq. We are winning. We will continue to win. We are going to prevail."
Allawi told a joint meeting of Congress Thursday that democratic elections will take place in Iraq in January as scheduled, but Kerry said that was unrealistic.
"The United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq," Kerry told reporters outside a Columbus firehouse. "There are no-go zones in Iraq today. You can't hold an election in a no-go zone."
Kerry said President Bush should convene a summit of international leaders to ask for their help in Iraq. He also said the president missed an opportunity to get foreign support during two days of diplomacy at the United Nations this week.
"The president skedaddled out of New York so quickly he barely had time to talk to any leaders," Kerry said.
Kerry's remarks come one day after he told The Associated Press that President Bush's statement that a "handful" of people were willing to kill to stop progress in Iraq was a blunder that showed he was avoiding reality.
"George Bush let Osama bin Laden escape at Tora Bora," Kerry said in the brief interview Wednesday. "George Bush retreated from Fallujah and other communities in Iraq which are now overrun with terrorists and threaten our troops. And George Bush said on the record we can't win the war on terror.
"And even today, he blundered again saying there are only a handful of terrorists in Iraq," Kerry said. "I think he's living in a make believe world."
Mr. Bush, campaigning in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, said: "It's hard to help a country go from tyranny to elections to peace when there are a handful of people who are willing to kill in order to stop the process. And that's what you're seeing on the TV screens. You know, these people cannot beat us militarily."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday, "It only took 19 people to take down the World Trade Center towers and kill 3,000 people." He said that in Iraq, "you've seen how a small number of suicide bombers can have a dramatic effect."
Mr. Bush said Wednesday the insurgents "use the only tool at their disposal, which is beheadings and death, to try to shake our will. They understand the nature of America. ... We weep when we think about the families affected by those who have been brutalized by these terrorists."
Kerry's voice was scratchy and breaking from a cold on Wednesday. He canceled most public events for Thursday in Columbus and in Iowa to rest his voice, though his words were clear at the firehouse. The campaign said running mate John Edwards would take Kerry's place in Iowa.
Kerry spoke to the AP in West Palm Beach, Fla., shortly before boarding a flight to Columbus and after Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a scathing attack on the Democrat. Speaking to reporters after meeting with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, Cheney argued that Kerry has a penchant for wavering that makes him a weak alternative to a "steadfast leader, which is exactly what we have in President George W. Bush."
A new national poll, meanwhile, shows Kerry has gained ground on the president. A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll released Thursday showed the race to be virtual toss-up, with Mr. Bush leading Kerry by a margin of 48-45 percent.
The survey also showed the nation's uneasiness with developments in Iraq. An increasing number of voters believe the war has not been worth the cost, with only 40 percent agreeing that removing Saddam Hussein from power was worth the price has been paid in American casualties and financial expenditures.