WASHINGTON - The war in Iraq has claimed another victim - leaving the United States peace movement without one of its most genuine and inspirational voices.
Activist Cindy Sheehan has announced she is standing down from her position as the "face" of the anti-war movement, citing frustration with apathy of the American public over Iraq and the failure of the Democratic Party to do more to bring the troops home.
She said she had been routinely abused by conservatives and liberals and accused of being an "attention whore".
"I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost," wrote Sheehan, whose son Casey, a reservist with the US army, was killed in April 2004. "I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade."
Sheehan entered the public consciousness and overnight reinvigorated the US peace movement when, in the aftermath of her son's death, she camped outside President George W. Bush's Texas ranch and refused to leave until the president came out to meet her. Her presence there and the establishment of "Camp Casey" attracted activists from across the country and around the world.
But while Sheehan may have expected criticism from conservatives and supporters of the war, she was surprised at the attacks that she often received from Democrats and liberals, some of whom complained that she sometimes strayed from delivering a simply anti-war message. She said she also irked some people within the peace movement, angry at the attention she received.
"I have spent every available cent I got from the money a 'grateful' country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then," she wrote on the liberal website Daily Kos.
"I have sacrificed a 29-year marriage and have travelled for extended periods of time away from Casey's brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings."
Sheehan, 49, said she had decided to stand down from the frontline of the movement partly as a result of the recent failure of the Democrats to withhold funding for the Iraq war. Democrats initially passed a bill that included a requirement to withdraw US troops by next year but the measure was vetoed by Mr Bush. A subsequent $120bn bill - with no such timetable - was passed last week.
"The most devastating conclusion I reached ... was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think," she wrote. "I have tried ever since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives."
Driven by grief
* Cindy Sheehan became a leading voice against the Iraq war after her son, Casey, was killed in combat in 2004.
* She was a frequent protester in President George W. Bush's adopted hometown of Crawford, Texas.
* Bush met with her after her son died but did not see her again, although he sent two top aides to talk to her.
* She said was stepping out of the limelight out of frustration with Democrats, who she said had turned against her when she tried to hold them to the same standards she held Republicans, and an anti-war movement that "puts egos above peace and human life".