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Friday, December 03, 2004

Colonial Warfare pt. 18

abd el-krim

Hollywood made the stgruggles in the Moroccan Rif and Algerian Atlas mountains a story of white Legionaires against wild rebels. Not the brutal colonial struggle where the Spanish were seen as especially savage. In the world of Beau Geste, where war is a backdrop to personal struggle and triumph, not a brutal colonial struggle where murder and rape were the currency of the day.

Colonial Struggles

In the 19th cent. the strategic importance and economic potential of Morocco excited the interest of the European powers. France, after beginning war with Algeria, defeated (1844) Sultan Abd ar-Rahman , who had aided the Algerians. Spain invaded in 1860. In 1880 the major European nations and the United States decided at the Madrid Conference to preserve the territorial integrity of Morocco and to maintain equal trade opportunities for all.

Political and commercial rivalries soon disrupted this cordial arrangement and brought on several international crises. France sought to gain Spanish and British support against the opposition of Germany. Thus, in 1904, France concluded a secret treaty with Spain to partition Morocco and secretly agreed with Great Britain (the Entente Cordiale) not to oppose British aims in Egypt in exchange for a free hand in Morocco. In 1905, after France had asked the sultan of Morocco for a protectorate, Germany moved quickly: Emperor William II visited Tangier and declared support for Morocco's integrity. At German insistence the Algeciras Conference (Jan.-Mar., 1906) was called to consider the Moroccan question. The principles of the Madrid Conference were readopted and German investments were assured protection, but French and Spanish interests were given marked recognition by the decision to allow France to patrol the border with Algeria and to allow France and Spain to police Morocco.

Under the claim of effecting pacification, the French steadily annexed territory. In 1908 friction arose at Casablanca, under French occupation, when the German consul gave refuge to deserters from the French Foreign Legion. This dispute was settled by the Hague Tribunal. Shortly afterward in a coup Abd al-Aziz IV was unseated and his brother, Abd al-Hafid, installed on the throne. He had difficulty maintaining order and received help from France and Spain, especially in a revolt that broke out in 1911. In this situation the appearance of the German warship Panther at Agadir on July 1, 1911, was interpreted by the French as a threat of war and speeded a final adjustment of imperial rivalries.

On Nov. 4, 1911, Germany agreed to a French protectorate in Morocco in exchange for the cession of French territory in equatorial Africa. Finally, at Fès (Mar. 30, 1912), the sultan agreed to a French protectorate, and on Nov. 27 a Franco-Spanish agreement divided Morocco into four administrative zones—French Morocco, nine-tenths of the country, a protectorate with Rabat as capital; a Spanish protectorate, which included Spanish Morocco, with its capital at Tétouan; a Southern Protectorate of Morocco, administered as part of the Spanish Sahara; and the international zone of Tangier . The French protectorate was placed under the rule of General Lyautey , who remained in office until 1925.

They didn't much like being run by the French or the Spanish, who didn't mind killing the Rif.

y the Treaty of Fez (1912), Spain had been awarded the mountainous zones around Melilla and Ceuta, in Morocco. The two zones had few, if any, roads and were separated by the Bay of Alhucemas, making communications and development difficult. In 1920 the Spanish commissioner, General Dámaso Berenguer, decided to conquer the eastern zone's Jibala tribes and thus incorporate their lands into those already controlled by Spain. At the same time, he ordered Manuel Fernández Silvestre, commander of the western sector, to subdue the Rif tribes and their leader, Abd el-Krim. Berenguer's overall goal was to unite the two sectors. The forces of Abd el-Krim, however, inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Spanish troops, pushing them back to the walls of Melilla, and for five years sporadic warfare continued. Spanish losses were heavy, partly because of their ineffective leadership and partly because of their inadequate arms.

In 1925 the French joined the war on the side of Spain and attacked from the south. The Spanish fleet secured Alhucemas Bay and began an offensive from the north. Abd el-Krim, then leader of both the tribes, surrendered, and in 1926 the Spanish Sahara was decisively retaken.

One of the Spanish generals who most distinguished himself in the Rif War was Francisco Franco.


Abd el-Krim [ b. 1882, Ajdir, Mor.; d. Feb. 6, 1963, Cairo, Egypt] in full MUHAMMAD IBN 'ABD AL-KARIM AL-KHATTABI, leader of a resistance movement against Spanish and French rule in North Africa and founder of the short-lived Republic of the Rif (1921-26). A skilled tactician and a capable organizer, he led a liberation movement that made him the hero of the Maghrib (northwest Africa). A precursor of the anticolonial struggle for independence, Abd el-Krim was defeated only by the military and technological superiority of the colonial powers.
Son of an influential member of the Berber tribe Banu Uriaghel, Abd el-Krim received a Spanish education in addition to the traditional Muslim schooling. He was employed as a secretary in the Bureau of Native Affairs. In 1915 he was appointed the qadi al-qudat, or chief Muslim judge, for the district of Melilla, where he also taught at a Hispano-Arabic school and was the editor of an Arabic section of El Telegrama del Rif.

During his employment with the Spanish protectorate administration he began to be disillusioned with Spanish rule, eventually opposed Spanish policies, and was imprisoned. He escaped and in 1918 was made chief Muslim judge at Melilla again, but he left the post in 1919 to return to Ajdir.

Soon Abd el-Krim, joined by his brother, who later became his chief adviser and commander of the Rif army, was organizing tribal resistance against foreign domination of Morocco. In July 1921 at Annoual he defeated a Spanish army and pursued it to the suburbs of Melilla. At that time the Republic of the Rif was founded with Abd el-Krim as its president. Overcoming tribal rivalries, he began organizing a centralized administration based upon traditional Berber tribal institutions. He defeated another Spanish army in 1924; in 1925 he almost reached the ancient city of Fès in his drive against French forces that had captured his supply base in the Wargha valley.

Faced with Abd el-Krim's successes and seeing in his movement a threat to their colonial possessions in North Africa, the Franco-Spanish conference meeting in Madrid decided upon joint action. As a Spanish force landed at Alhucemas near Ajdir, a French army of 160,000 men under Marshal Philippe Pétain attacked from the south. Confronted with this combined Franco-Spanish force of 250,000 men with overwhelming technological superiority, Abd el-Krim surrendered on May 27, 1926, and was exiled to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Receiving permission in 1947 to live in France, he left Réunion and was granted political asylum en route by the Egyptian government; for five years he presided over the Liberation Committee of the Arab West (sometimes called the Maghrib Bureau) in Cairo. After the restoration of Moroccan independence, King Muhammad V invited him to return to Morocco, which he refused to do as long as French troops remained on North African soil

Lyautey and the Moroccan Elites

Any discussion of French policy in Morocco ought to begin with Marshal Louis Hubert Lyautey (1854-1934), France’s first resident-general in Morocco (1912-1925). In his actions, Lyautey fits well Robinson’s characterization of “a handful of European pro-consuls [who] managed to manipulate the polymorphic societies of Africa and Asia.”6 While Lyautey’s actual tenure in Rabat spanned less than a third of France’s “moment” in Morocco, indirectly his influence perpetuated to the end of the Protectorate era through a number of his selfproclaimed disciples who succeeded him at the summit of the French administration.7

Lyautey’s personal convictions provide the key for the understanding of his colonial philosophy in general and his approach to collaboration with indigenous Moroccan groups in particular. A staunch royalist and devout Catholic, Lyautey was somewhat of a misfit in the fin-desiècle militantly secularist atmosphere of the Third Re public. His progressive social views made him equally unpopular in the metropolitan army’s supreme command. 8 In a way, Lyautey may have sought not only a refuge in the colonial world, but also a new terrain upon which to recreate his image of France, the one irreversibly altered by the Revolution of 1789. If such was the case, then Morocco could be argued to have been the ideal laboratory for a royalist experiment, with its longestablished and solidly legitimized system of government at the summit of which stood the ‘Alawi Sultan and his administration (the Makhzan). Having successfully neutralized the former to a mere figurehead in the person of Mawlay Yusuf,9 Lyautey moved to assure the good will of the latter, whom he regarded as Morocco’s natural leadership, its aristocracy.10

Lyautey’s colonial philosophy called for a lasting collaboration, or “association” as contemporary terminology would have it,11 between French officials and their indigenous counterparts, drawn from among the various elites: tribal, clerical, mercantile, etc. In order to assure the sustainable cooperation of the Moroccan “aristocracy” and its ability to maintain its control over society, Lyautey initiated a francophone educational system designed primarily if not exclusively for fils de notables. The jewel of these schools was the Royal Military Academy (located at the Dar al-Baida palace in Meknes) that was inaugurated in 1919 and outlasted French rule in Morocco. As I have shown elsewhere, the primal purpose of the school, which was the only one of its kind throughout the French colonial empire, was not to train first-rate Moroccan officers for the French army, but rather to prepare its handpicked cadets to succeed their fathers as tribal and urban chieftains at the end of their military careers.12

Destruction, Seduction, Alteration: “Pacific Penetration” of the Moroccan Countryside

Behind the lofty rhetoric about “indirect rule” and “respect” of indigenous customs (not to mention the “civilizing mission”) uttered by Lyautey and other “enlightened” French colonialists, stood a clear self-serving motive (endorsed or even demanded by the metropolitan government and public) to minimize costs and keep an empire “on the cheap.” However, the ability of the Protectorate to ensure the tranquility (and hence economic exploitation) of what Lyautey had termed “Maroc utile”13 necessitated a solution to the problem of the armed resistance (“dissidence” in contemporary colonial terminology) exercised by Moroccan tribal groups. Lyautey’s reputation as an effective and progressive colonial administrator relied in part upon his professed adherence to non-violent methods in his dealing with armed resistance. This “oil-stain” strategy, originally attributed to Lyautey’s mentor Joseph Gallieni,14 called for the implementation of a variety of services such as field infirmaries and markets on the verge of the rebellious territory in order to attract hostile populations and convince them to switch sides. Otherwise, Lyautey preferred a brief, decisive demonstration of French military might hoping to spare its protracted, expensive use. A fictional “Native Affairs” officer, hero of a contemporary novel, summarized this concept of colonial warfare based on “peaceful penetration:”

The dissidents are not our enemies and our mission is not to destroy their land by fire and blood, but to study them, understand them, and to bring them to our side…we use force only as a last resort…but once the battle is over you must use all means to negotiate and begin the politics of taming. Conquer and then extend your hand to the conquered.15 Lyautey himself was categorical in stressing the differences between colonial warfare and a European-style campaign of annihilation. “One does not fight Abd el- Krim as one fights Marshal Hindenburg,” he remarked cynically in 1925, referring to the heavy-handed tactics used by his fellow Maréchal de France, Philippe Pétain, in his dealing with the Rifian revolt.16

Pétain’s ability to wage such a lavish campaign was facilitated by the flow of metropolitan troops, which doubled the French order of battle in Morocco from 75,300 men in April 1925 to about 150,000 four months later. These reinforcements came equipped with advanced weapon systems including some making their debut on the Moroccan scene such as tanks, attack planes, and heavy artillery. Lyautey and his subordinates could only dream of employing such a magnitude of military force in their handling of Moroccan armed resistance. Not only were they frequently challenged with cuts of their manpower due to demobilization and the overstretching of French overseas military commitments, they also had to take into account the metropolitan public’s sensitivity to casualties and the need to “spare French blood” in the wake of the Great War.17

“Perfect Mercenaries”: Moroccan Soldiers in
French Uniforms

The obvious solution for both problems was to enlarge the size of the Moroccan contingent within the French occupation corps in Morocco. Moroccan soldiers, particularly those labeled as “auxiliaries” (supplétives), were cheaper to maintain and their attrition in battle would not cause as great a stir in Paris as would the loss of French conscripts. Hence, by the time the “pacification” campaign reached its peak and conclusion in the early 1930s, it evolved, as Daniel Rivet aptly phrases it, “from a war against Moroccans to a war among Moroccans.”

The increase in the number of Moroccans mobilized by the French for the conquest of their own country manifested itself in their growing share of casualties. For example, a compliment of reports on casualties sustained by the groupe mobile of the Tadla region in the summer of 1923 put the total of killed and wounded at Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 24:1 (2004) 143 231, of whom 194 (eighty-four per cent) were Moroccans, mostly auxiliaries (154). Nine years later, a summary of the 1932 summer operations throughout southern Morocco listed 651 casualties of whom 429 (sixty-six per cent) were auxiliaries.19 Another indicator of the growing contribution of Moroccans to the conquest drive concerns the awarding of citations. As shown in Table 1 (see below), Moroccans (mostly “back-up” troops by a 2:1 ratio) constituted twenty-five per cent of all decorated troops during the last phase of combat in Morocco. Indeed, their share seemed to increase as the conquest of their country reached its zenith. In sum, the ability of the French army to consolidate its control over the Moroccan countryside could not have been achieved without the contribution of Moroccan combatants.


The Utility and Limitations of the “Partisans”

In addition to these regular and semi-regular troops were various formations of Moroccan irregulars, collectively labeled “partisans.” Most “partisans” were mobilized on an ad-hoc basis for specific operations and discharged at the end of the annual fighting season. These “partisans” were raised from among the recently subdued tribal population as part of the protection treaty (aman) that regulated its formal surrender. Other “partisans” were organized in more permanent formations that were commanded by indigenous chieftains who had allied themselves with the French, such as the “Grand Qa’ids” of the South, notably the Glawa clan.27 Who were those “partisans” who took part in the annual operations orchestrated by the French army to eradicate the tribal resistance in the Moroccan countryside? What motivated them to fight on the French side against their fellow countrymen? How were they used by the French and in what ways did they contribute to the success of the conquest drive? A contemporary article written by Captain Tarrit, a French intelligence and “native affairs” officer (Affaires Indigènes; henceforth AI) who participated in these operations sheds interesting light on these questions:28

Born Warriors or Glorified Shepherds? Image and Realities of Moroccan Combatants

The French attitude towards the Berberophone tribal population they encountered in battle or mobilized to serve in their armed forces was thus based on the perception that they were “born warriors” (guerriers par atavisme30), trained from infancy to use the rifle. For the mountainous Moroccan, notes Captain Maurice Durosoy, [W]ar is a permanent state. At a young age he accompanies his father and learns to shoot the rifle he would later carry with him as a sign of his courage. He loves to appear brave in the eyes of women; he loves danger, loves attacking the enemy, and he loves to plunder.31

One can find resonance of this imagery in the stories told of Moroccan tirailleurs charging barehanded against German tanks during the futile Belgian campaign of 1940, shouting “Yallah el-Maghreb,”32 or in accounts of the brute savagery, mad bravery, and gross mistreatment of civilians (mostly women) exercised by the goumiers in their battles in Italy during the latter parts of that war.33 Authentic and reliable as some of these anecdotes may be, they smack of an anachronistic and distinctly paternalistic colonial attitude that ought to be treated with a degree of skepticism.

Missing from these broad characterizations is any meaningful reference to Moroccans as individuals with a distinct personality, concrete biography, and purposeful existence. My current oral history project of Moroccan veterans of the French army is meant to address this omission.34 Through dozens of interviews conducted with Moroccan war veterans, most of whom enlisted during the 1930s and fought in World War II, I intend to reconstruct the collective biography of this group and examine the validity of the colonial perceptions presented above. While the full scope of that project exceeds the boundaries of this paper, some of my provisional conclusions may provide a useful perspective on this matter. Such is the case with respect to the reasons that led young Moroccans of Middle Atlas tribal origins to enlist in the French army.

When asked about their time in the French army, nearly all my interviewees denied any quest for glory or other warlike tendency. Their prime motivation was socio- economic in nature; they regarded a military career (“working for the French,” as virtually all veterans would term it) to be their best if not their sole opportunity to escape the poverty and deprivation in the Moroccan countryside. Recounting his enlistment as a goumier in 1943, Timour Ali Oubassou35 speaks for many other veterans when he says: “I wanted to have money and to escape misery and oppression. At the time I knew that the world had been at war and that we would be sent abroad where the war was more difficult. How ever, I didn't have any other choice.”

Very few of the veterans I met and interviewed had enlisted in the French army prior to the end of “pacification” in 1934, and therefore encountered direct combat against “dissidents.” Those who did tend to express no particular feelings about the “job” they were assigned to do. Having enlisted in 1926 and fought against the Rifians in 1926, Saoudi Salah Ben Ibrahim36 recounts: In 1933 and early 1934 I was involved in the war against the Ait Baamran. They were less fierce than the Rifians, although Moroccans like us. Fighting amongst ourselves, we were executing orders and trying to stay alive.

One should note in this respect that most rural Moroccans (notably those of the Berberophone regions) had a vague notion at best of collective “Moroccan” identity. According to one veteran, Morabet Moha Ouala, prior to his enlistment in the French army he had never been “in contact with Arabic-speaking Moroccans.”37 It is also worth mentioning that many Moroccans who served in the French army originated in communities and families that had resisted fiercely the intrusion of French colonialism and their incorporation within the orbit of the protectorate. Indeed, the line separating resistance and collaboration appears to have been very fine, almost non-existent sometimes, as yesterday’s foe became today’s friend.

The use of colonial troops was the only way repression could be maintained. There was never enough whites to run these colonies, so they relied upon various tribal groups to be recurited as their army. Divide and rule was the only way to keep colonies, but that was undermined by education and service overseas. Nothing like serving abroad to make you a nationalist. Especially when they treat you like crap at home. Imagine coming home from service in Italy and Germany, sleeping with white women, gaining rank, and some pied-noir looks at you like dirt and calls you the equivilent of boy. It doesn't just sting, it's enough to make you kill someone. You're good enough to catch a bullet side by side with a Frenchman, but someone sitting on their ass and worshiping Petain thinks his white skin makes him better than you. Because colonialism relied on local troops for repression, it would be undone when those troops were used by desperate governments drained from the First World War's horrific losses. The French simply needed the Algerians and Moroccans, just like the British needed the Kenyans and Nigerians. They didn't have a choice. The problem was that these troops would get ideas, like white men weren't so special, especially when they fought just like them and saw them up close, far away from home.

posted by Steve @ 1:33:00 AM

1:33:00 AM

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