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Like many states, especially colonized ones, Mauritania was born par le fer et par le feu (“by iron and fire”). The name itself was given by the conqueror in 1904. (For the Romans and their successors, Mauretania, or Mauritania, was the entire North Africa.) Nevertheless, the beginning of the conquest was peaceful, because Xavier Coppolani, the administrator commissioned by French prime minister Waldeck-Rousseau, wanted to conquer by “winning the hearts and minds” of the local population. After having rallied the sheiks of southern tribes to the idea of peace under French rule, he pacified the regions of Trarza, Brakna, and Tagant in the south and center of Mauritania and gained the title of “Pacific Conqueror.”

But the sheik of the Adrar region, Ma al Aynin, did ...

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