While the Iran-Iraq war is more than halfway through its eighth year with no end in sight, the character of the conflict seems to have changed. Unfortunately, that does not mean peace is any closer.

In spite of the long and bloody stalemate, Iran has refused to accept a peace package proposed by the United Nations. The Ayatollah Khomeini insists on punishing Iraq.However, two rare ground victories by Iraq in recent months have given the Iraqis new confidence and indicate there are growing problems inside Iran, where the government suddenly is having difficulty rounding up volunteers for military duty.

The rocket war, in which Iraq pounded Iranian cities with 170 long-range missiles, seems to have damaged more than buildings; it appears to have badly shaken Iranian morale as well. Those areas hit the hardest are the ones where recruiters are having the worst time.

Iraqi officials, bolstered by new confidence, are openly talking of taking the ground war back into Iran for the first time in years, as a way to force the Iranians to the negotiating table.

Western diplomats, including those from the U.S., are trying to persuade Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein not to do this, for fear it will complicate the war even more and make Iran less reasonable - if that's possible.

Yet the sad truth is that it may not matter either way. Neither side can win and Iran refuses to quit. So the victories by Iraq may only mean that the war has become a little more even - hardly a formula for persuading Iran to bring this senseless struggle to an end.