Two British research firms came out with studies on civilian deaths in Iraq, and concluded that some 25,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the coalition invasion in early 2003. The research was questionable, because it was based on English language news sources. Since the international media has been largely pro-Sunni Arab and against the removal of Saddam Hussein by force, the reporting of the war has emphasized stories that make the United States and its allies look bad. Naturally, this will exaggerate the number of civilian casualties and who caused them. Reports like this only widen the gap between the reality on the ground (as reported by Iraqi media, and via email and blogs by soldiers and Iraqis), and an imaginary situation reported by foreign media.
One thing the British reports do bring up is the large role criminal gangs play in civilian losses over the last two years. Many of these gangs existed under Saddam , and it will be interesting to compare to the British report numbers to those that come out during the war crimes trials for Saddam Hussein and his cronies. Saddam used gangs and militias to terrorize the population and keep people in line. Many of these gangs survived the invasion intact and still support Saddam, and the forces trying to bring the Sunni Arabs back to power. However, few Iraqis, even Sunni Arabs, care for the criminal gangs. These guys are outlaws of the worst kind, quick to kill and commit any crime if it will make them some money.
While the activities of the criminal gangs is big news inside Iraq, it hardly gets any coverage by the foreign media. Iraqis know that the current violence is a result of the Sunni Arabs, in an alliance with Islamic radicals (al Qaeda and friends), to maintain Sunni rule in Iraq. The coalition invasion of 2003, and removal of Saddam's government, was only the opening battle in this war. But to many foreigners, the war is reported as an armed resistance to foreign occupation. That's a gross distortion of the actual situation. The Sunni Arabs are fighting to get the foreign troops out of Iraq, so that the Sunni Arabs will have a better chance of regaining control of the country.
The reality is that the use of American troops in Iraq is to enable the Kurds and Shia Arabs to build a strong enough force to deal with the Sunni Arabs, who have monopolized military and police power for decades. Oh, and we'd like to avoid a "pay-back" campaign by the Kurds and Shia Arabs. While that might make them feel good, slaughtering Iraqi Sunni Arabs on a large scale really plays into al Qaeda's hands. Another year or two, and the Iraqis will be able to police their problem, not massacre it.