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Horror of Iraq mounts each day

The battle for hearts and minds may already be hopelessly lost

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

War attacks the human spirit the way cancer attacks the human body. The body resists cancer in its early stages and may not even feel its presence.

But the longer the cancer is allowed to grow untreated, the more difficult it becomes to cure. The longer a war wears on without a clear path to conclusion, the harder it becomes to accomplish &

8212; or even remember &

8212; the mission.

The Iraq war grows more horrible with each passing day for Americans and Iraqis caught in the undertow of its relentless carnage. Violence is escalating everywhere. Last Saturday, at least 66 Iraqis were blown to bits in a crowded Baghdad market. Hundreds were savagely wounded. Car bombs killed five on Monday in Mosul. Three more died the same day in another market bombing in Mahmoudiya. Insurgents killed two more U.S. soldiers Monday, bringing the toll of U.S. military dead in Iraq to 2,529 since the invasion in 2003.

Bush's war of choice has degenerated into a nightmare of deepening chaos despite a bevy of manufactured turning points, the latest being the death of terrorist kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The much-touted unity government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shia Muslim, has been derailed by the boycott of Iraq's main Sunni political faction. The Sunnis pulled out after a female Sunni parliament member was kidnapped with seven of her bodyguards.

Nothing, however, compares to the realization that the accumulating psychological trauma of multiple combat tours has pushed some American soldiers over the edge. On Monday, federal prosecutors accused a 21-year-old former Army private of raping and murdering a young Iraqi woman and gunning down her family in Mahmoudiya.

This latest atrocity adds to a growing list of alleged incidents in which U.S. troops are accused of murdering Iraqi civilians. The biggest case involves charges that U.S. Marines executed 24 unarmed civilians last November. Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged with murder and kidnapping in the April killing of a disabled Baghdad man. Investigators also are investigation charges that American troops shot an unarmed Iraqi man in February and executed three prisoners in May.

Although 99 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq are performing honorably, the renegades have a negative impact out of proportion to their tiny numbers. The United States is fighting two wars in Iraq: a shooting war against a brutal insurgency and a psychological battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis and everyone else who questions U.S. motives for the invasion.

Even the generals admit a military victory in the shooting war is unlikely, and the battle for hearts and minds may already be hopelessly lost. The need to end this disastrous war and bring American troops home grows more urgent by the day.