Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health dropped a metaphoric "cluster bomb" last month in an article in the British medical journal Lancet. The research team interviewed 1,849 Iraqi households picked at random in 47 "clusters." It concluded that total civilian deaths in the war - between 400,000 and 800,000 - were four times as great as they had been in a comparable prewar period. More than half of all those deaths in the country in the first three years of the war were a result of war-related violence, not natural causes, the team said. Most of those casualties were victims of insurgents, terrorists or sectarian death squads, according to the report, but about 30 percent were killed by the U.S.-led coalition.
A range like that is hardly precise and invites criticism. The U.S. commander of ground forces in Iraq says he has seen no figure higher than 50,000 civilian war casualties. President Bush used a figure of 30,000 last year. Asked about the Hopkins conclusion, he called it "not credible."
According to one detailed estimate, 30 million of the known 58 million deaths in World War II were civilians. In 1945, the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces firebombed Dresden, Germany, killing at least 30,000 civilians in a few days of raids. Also that year, after dropping leaflets warning of a campaign of massive firebombing of Tokyo, which sent millions of residents fleeing to safety, U.S. planes quickly incinerated 16 square miles of the city, killing about 90,000 civilians.