Tuesday, October 01, 2013

On Chemical Warfare in the Moroccan Rif

From Mohamed:  "I read with interest your post on the use of chemical weapons by Spain in the Moroccan Rif (northern Moroccan Berber area on the Mediterranean) during the Rif war 1921-1926. This is an important case because the Moroccan Rif witnessed the first aerial bombardment of a civilian population with chemical weapons in history. As you know, poison gas was previously used in Ypres, Belgium during WWI and in Iraq (1919) when Churchill infamously declared “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas … I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.” But in these earlier uses, it was artillery shells, not bombs from the air. Spain has yet to acknowledge this historical fact that has become established in research by British historian Sebastian Balfour in his book ‘Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War’ (chapter 5) and Spanish Historian Maria Rosa de Madariaga in various books dealing with the history of Spanish colonialism in northern Morocco (See for example her long article here). In fact, a petition by the Catalan “Republican Left” party to raise the issue in parliament was denied by the constitutional commission of parliament in 2007. The first types of gas used in the Rif were phosgene, diphosgene and choloropicrin, which were provided to the Spaniards by the French. But afterwards, the chemical warfare escalated (particularly because of the continuing defeats and losses against the resistance movement) with the use of mustard gas provided by Germany indirectly through the chemist Hugo Stoltzenberg. The Germans both supplied the Spanish with mustard gas and aided them in setting up the factories for the manufacture of the gas. The only study to date of this particular episode continues to be Rudibert Kunz and Rolf-Dieter Muller’s book (1990) ‘Giftgas gegen Abd el Krim: Deutschland, Spanien und der Gaskrieg in Spanisch-Marokko, 1922-1927’. In diplomatic cables, both the French and the British knew of, and supported, the use of mustard gas by the Spanish during the war. As to the position of the Moroccan regime, the motives are not as simple as your reader from Berlin stated. The main reason why the subject is taboo in morocco is that the whole resistance episode in northern Moroccan history is taboo. Particularly sensitive is the term “Republic of the Rif” which was the name for the political entity that came out of the war of liberation of the Rif, one which expressed the movement’s leader’s idea of a modern state inspired mainly by an Islamic reform ideology (Abduh, Kawakibi) and Turkish style “Ataturkian” state (Abdelkrim was fascinated by the experiment of Ataturk). Not to mention that under the protectorate, the French and Spanish are supposed to be acting to protect the king. Moreover, there are allegations that the regime shuns from bringing up the issue because it itself used napalm in its brutal suppression of the Rif rebellion (civil disobedience really) in the winter of 1958/59. These allegations however remain to this day hard to prove or substantiate. The campaign was led by then Crown Prince Hassan (later Hassan II) and his henchman General Oufkir (the same Oufkir who later led the failed coup attempt in 1972). More sadly, the recent political and journalistic transvestisation of the subject are clearly trivializing it rather than reflecting a serious intention to face an important chapter in Moroccan history. The subject of the Spanish gasing of the Riffian civilian population is brought up only for political ends, particularly in moments of diplomatic tensions between the two countries. In this, the regime is aided by various actors in the political, press and “NGO” fields. Even the NGO whose conference was cancelled in 2001 (a bunch of former pseudo-leftist poseurs) has its members now representing the position of the regime. Most of them have become members of the PAM party (Authenticity and Modernity Party), a party started several years ago by a high official in the interior ministry friends with the king. It is actually called here “the friend of the king’s party.” Finally, many here are convinced that the ridiculously high cancer rate in the Rif (the highest in Morocco) is due to the use of mustard gas in the twenties. Obviously the gas does cause cancer in direct victims exposed to the gas with sufficient doses, but no scientific study has established yet the link between mustard gas and cancer in descendents of victims."