In her Aug. 7 letter, Margaret Hobble took issue with Sabaa U. Saleem ["Being Muslim in a Mad, Sad World," Outlook, July 31], who alleged that thousands of Iraqi civilians have died without giving any sources for that claim.

Ms. Hobble said that she could not find U.S. figures to validate those assertions, but that may be because our policy -- as stated by Gen. Tommy R. Franks early in the war -- is that we do not conduct body counts.

However, the November 2004 issue of the Lancet, a respected British medical journal, reported on an epidemiological study of war-caused deaths in Iraq some 18 months into the war. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Iraqi medical personnel interviewed clusters of families who had lost loved ones, friends and associates. They concluded that an estimated 100,000 civilians, mostly women and children, lost their lives predominantly from the application of American aerial weaponry but also in ground war actions. The study, done under perilous conditions, did not include the toll in Fallujah, which would have raised the estimate.

The research followed standard procedures for obtaining results with full cognizance of the range of errors. The authors also pointed out that the Geneva Conventions require the occupying powers of a conquered nation to protect the civilian population from harm. Not only has the coalition failed to do this, it has contributed to that harm.

Ms. Hobble also rebuked Ms. Saleem for not mentioning the toll of suicide bombing. A careful reading of Ms. Saleem's column, however, reveals that she deplores the extremist acts of fanatics who pervert Islam to justify their behavior. I also suspect that the figures of those killed in that manner may not be available from U.S. sources for the same reason that Gen. Franks gave for Iraqis in general.


Chevy Chase