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As the deaths rise in Iraq, so do questions

Recent interviews with locals who were over there point out the tough issues

The death of U.S. Army Sgt. Sean Patrick Fennerty on Jan. 20 brings into focus the sacrifice Oregon has made in pursuit of our country's mission in Iraq.

The 25-year-old Fennerty, a Portland resident, was killed when a roadside bomb destroyed his vehicle. His death is a reminder that the war has direct consequences at home - and Oregonians are as familiar as anyone with the impact of those tragic effects .

With 55 Oregon residents now dead as a result of the war, the state's Iraq fatalities exceed the national average by 50 percent.

Such an impersonal statistic cannot convey the pain felt by family members or friends of those who've been killed.

But yet another death prompts another round of difficult questions: To what purpose are we sacrificing our state's finest? Do we honor those sacrifices by now leaving Iraq, or by prolonging a potentially unwinnable conflict and absorbing even more losses? Is there still a mission that can be accomplished?

Reporters from Pamplin Media Group recently interviewed a group of people who have thought about the Iraq war deeply - in fact, they've lived through it. The team effort was on the front page last Thursday in the Lake Oswego Review. What we found in interviewing several men and women who have completed tours of duty in Iraq is that there's no consensus.

Some believe we can still be successful in Iraq - although 'success' will appear much different than it was defined four years ago. Others we interviewed have grown pessimistic.

They are unsure if there is still a mission to serve and skeptical of whether a surge in troops will make an appreciable difference.

If there is agreement on anything, it is this: An immediate and abrupt troop pullout will bring about collapse in Iraq and will not serve the Iraqi people, U.S. interests or stability in the Middle East.

It's a conundrum. We can't leave now, but neither is complete success a realistic possibility. Perhaps the best we can hope for is enough stability in a matter of months to allow for reductions in our number of troops.

Even once most U.S. forces have left - and we hope it's soon - the toughest questions of all will remain: Has this war been worth the loss of life? Have we kept faith with the soldiers we sent to Iraq, who believed in a mission that may never be completed?

Those questions will hang in the air for years.