Spain is recognizing the damage its decision to use poison gas against the Moroccan resistance caused in the Rif War.
Rabat – Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell has raised the possibility of taking the opportunity to “heal wounds” 100 years after the Rif War and the Battle of Annual, a fierce confrontation between Spain and Moroccan resistance fighters in 1921.
This year marked the 97th anniversary of the Battle of Annual in which all Moroccans take pride. The battle was one of Morocco’s most famous accomplishments against colonial powers.
After Spain’s defeat in the battle, the Spanish colonizers made an unprecedented decision to use poison gas to stifle the revolution in the Rif region under the instruction of King Alfonso XIII in 1923.
The decision was a blatant violation of the Treaty of Versaille signed in 1919. The treaty prohibited the use of poison gas.
On Wednesday, Borrell brought up the Rif War before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Spanish Parliament and the damage Spain inflicted and the reprehensible use of poison gas, reported Spanish news outlets, including Europa Press.
Opening dialogue on Spain’s use of poison gas in the Rif War has been suggested before. In 2012, Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani, then serving as minister of foreign affairs, called on Spain to come to terms with its use of poison gas during the war.
Several scholars have condemned Spain’s use of poison gas, pointing out that the Rif region has the highest rates of cancer in Morocco, ostensibly caused by the Spanish chemical weapon attacks.
Spain’s mea culpa might be too little too late, but the Moroccan government is strongly hoping for Spain to admit using inhumane weapons in the region.
Besides the government, several Moroccan and international NGOs are calling on Spain to take the accusations seriously.
Morocco’s Center for Common Memory for Democracy urged former Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis to take into consideration Morocco’s requests.
Quoted by AA, the NGO’s statement earlier this year said, “Priority must be given to the issue of chemical weapons use and the tragedies they have caused—including the spread of cancerous diseases—in areas that were bombed [by Spanish colonial forces].”
A David and Goliath war
Despite Spain’s later actions, the Battle of Annual and the Rif War represent the pride of Moroccans.
Soldiers under the leadership of Abd El Krim El Khattabi fought for Morocco’s independence with limited resources.
Spanish historians have called the battle “the disaster of Annual” because of the untold numbers of Spanish soldiers who died in the disastrous defeat. An alleged 13,000 Spanish soldiers died in the battle.
El Khattabi’s guerilla tactics led Spain’s Manuel Fernandez Silvester and his soldiers to withdraw.
El Khattabi and his forces also confronted the French army in 1925 in Fez. El Khattabi led around 2,5000 soldiers and 50,0000 tribesmen to seize Fez, killing about 6,000 French forces.
After the defeats, Spain and France called for negotiations with the Moroccan National Liberation Movement, which received support and administration from many liberation movements across the world. El Khattabi agreed to end the Rif War, but refused to hand over the weapons his men had seized from fallen Spanish soldiers.
Spain and France, however, stopped El Khattabi in September 1925, sending their troops into the Rif and the south and fighting several battles.
Both Spain and France used chemical grenades and other weapons that had been used in World War I. The massive attack led the Riffian leader to hand himself over to the French occupiers for the first time on May 26, 1926.
France then exiled El Khattabi with his family to the island of Reunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean, where he lived for 20 years.