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Since 1989, conflict has being tearing at the fabric of West Africa with devastating consequences. It began in Liberia followed by Sierra Leone and Guinea. Ghana, Togo and Nigeria have all suffered from civil strife. And the most recent conflict in Côte d'Ivoire threatens the stability of the entire region. The violence has cost the lives of thousands of people, driven millions from their homes and devastated local economies. But you would be hard pressed to find news of those wars in the world's media.

The crisis in Iraq has been centre stage for the past year, distracting attention away from conflicts deemed too intractable to solve. Pleas to stop West Africa's collapse are met with a shake of the head as world leaders opt to follow the spotlight.

As this issue of the magazine shows, the crises in both West Africa and Iraq are causing widespread suffering among civilian populations. Inadequate public services, especially health care, education, water and electricity, and the lack of law and order are most often at the root of this suffering. In each case, the ICRC has reminded all sides in the conflicts that responsibility lies first with the occupying powers or armed groups to ensure order and security, in conformity with the provisions of the Law of The Hague and the Geneva Conventions. In both West Africa and Iraq, the Movement is doing its best to carry out its mission and to maintain vital services.

But it is also the job of the Movement to remind the international community that suffering in West Africa requires as great a response as in Iraq. In fact one of the themes of the upcoming International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is forgotten crises. Yet, we too can confuse priorities as we struggle to cover shrinking budgets. Calculations of different Red Cross Red Crescent appeals show the amount allocated for one beneficiary in Iraq exceeds 30-fold that of one in West Africa. We, more than most, need to be consistent in our commitment to protecting human dignity and alleviating suffering wherever it is and on an equal footing.

In addition to West Africa and Iraq, other issues covered in this edition of the magazine include the official opening of the International Criminal Court — whose success depends on its capacity to act universally — and a project in which the Nicaraguan Red Cross is working with gangs fighting their own kind of urban battle.

Jean-François Berger
ICRC editor

Joe Lowry
International Federation Communication

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