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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell

Reference code
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 entry, paper
Clayton, Iltyd
Cox, Percy
Hussein, Feisal bin al-

33.5138073, 36.2765279

Wed. Oct. 8. [8 October 1919] After breakfast walked down to the great Mosque. Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] is much changed, the Hamidiyah bazaar roofless, the entrance to the mosque opened out by Jamal Pasha - this is all to the good but I need scarcely say that the work is unfinished - and a big new thoroughfare to the west of the Hamidiyah cut by Jamal Pasha. The town is filthy beyond description, and though the people in the streets are not rude to one, they are much less courteous to the European than they were in Turkish times. Soon after 10 I went to Major Clayton's office where I found Major Wadman and Captain King. Three members of the Ahd al 'Iraqi were coming to see the former and I assisted at the interview. The League is working for Arab independence without any foreign control, both in Syria and in Mesopotamia. Its moving spirit is Yasin Pasha and at the root of it is the hatred of the French. If the French come here, Yasin's object is to raise the whole Arab world against the European. He is a Baghdadi by origin has been away for the last 10 years in Turkish military service and was here, wounded, when the Arab army came in. He is in touch with the C.U.P at C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)] and with Mustafa Kamal and would probably prefer Turkish suzerainty to any foreign protection, certainly to a French mandate. He is not much liked by the British officers here, probably because he is now giving so much trouble and also because they believe him to be out for the interests of Yasin first and foremost. He has a great deal of influence with Faisal and entirely dominates Zaid. No friendship between him and 'Ali Ridha Rikabi, the Chief Administrator. Unscrupulous, a dangerous man; clever but has not made a success of the Arab army according to Major Clayton. Of the 8000 men whom they are allowed to keep, they have about 7200, with some 400 officers above the prescribed number. The officers are to be used for raising the country if it comes to guerilla warfare, upon which Yasin in the last resort probably relies. We have made no protest against the extra 400. The regular troops are paid about £3 a month; they desert in handfuls, whole villages at a time, after every payday and not a man wished to engage in regular warfare. Yasin has had large sums of secret service money at his disposal which he had used chiefly in propaganda, though a good deal has gone into his own pockets. This money is all drawn from the subsidy which we pay the Sharif. Last month the payment was delayed 3 weeks in order to bring our Arab allies into line. They had embarked on conscription with a bad alleyah[?] of £36 every 6 months which would have fallen heavily on Xians and Jews. The stoppage of the subsidy made them realize their dependence. The officers could not be paid and could get no credit in the shops. They have been warned that the subsidy will be discontinued at the end of the year and there is no knowing what they will do then. Until a month ago we were still selling them arms and we are still selling them other equipment. The whole country is armed with Turkish rifles which the Turks threw away in their flight - 75000 at least in Damascus alone. Ammunition probably sufficient to last a year though the gendarmerie declare that they have only a few rounds apiece. \n\nThe three members of the Ahd who came to see Major Wagman [see also Wadman] are busy forming a c.... They are all Baghdadis. Ismail Huqqi, a lean and earnest man of about 35, was a divisional commander and is now head of the technical department. He has a brother who is a katib with us at Judaidah. Subhi Halim of the Bait Halim of Baghdad, a dark, heavy-browed, stout man of about 36[?], is Mudarris al Muhakim al 'Askariyah. Both these are officers, but Safar al Din is a civilian. He is of the Bait Mamun in Baghdad, about 25, fat, intelligent looking. They say that they deeply regret the universal discontent with British rule in Mesopotamia, that they recognize that our help and protection is essential and that they wish to go themselves or send other members of the group to serve as intermediaries between us and the inhabitants. Incidentally they all want office under us. They would look to us for guidance in their programme of political education. They talked much of Mesopotamian shikayah, said that many 'Iraqis were now coming over here to escaped from the tyranny of our native officials and police. They laid the blame entirely on our native officials. They said all the Shi'ah tribes were against us. Welcomed the idea of the return of Cox. They declare that more than half the Ahd are really with them but dare not make open adhesion - a doubtful statement. They said the Bait al Naqib had no influence nor any of the Ashraf, Jamil Zadah etc. The influence was all in the hands of the younger men. Usual anti French talk. They say the title Shabbanah is much disliked. \n\nThe strength of the Ahd lies in the fact that its members, the Baghdadi group, control and dispose of the army. They occupy all the high places. As violent or even more violent than the Baghdadis are the Palestinians goaded thereto by anti Zionism. \n\nMajor Clayton returned during the morning. We talked of the necessity of better communication between Syria and Mesopotamia, on which he spoke very strongly. He gave as an instance that they had had no notice of the arrival of Salih Mille[?] in Baghdad and did not know who he was. He preached the advantages of British rule over Arabian and was severely handled by the Aleppim fanatics. He claimed that he was a British officer and demanded a court martial, which could not be given. Lunched with Major Wagman and the Kings and came back at 2 to the office to read the Ahd file and the Damascus and Aleppo [Halab] weekly reports. \n\nWhile I was so engaged Yusuf Beg al Sa'dun came to see me, bringing 'Abdul Razzaq al Munir with him - his lawyer. They both prayed for the return of Cox whom the British officers here say that everyone applauds. Yusuf has been given permission to return but wants more generous terms, the payment of the 4 years' rent of his confiscated estates chiefly. He is however about to return and take his chance. He has been loyal here and on several occasions has resisted the pressure of the extremists to assist the Ahd propaganda in Mesopotamia. Recommended by Clayton 'Abdul Razzaq also wishes to return with Yusuf, but has not yet put in an application. If he is refused he will do his best to prevent the return of Yusuf. I was agreeably impressed by Yusuf but he is a regular Sa'adun, invertibrate [sic], I should say, and easily influenced in spite of his having so far stood out against the Ahd. \n\nI then went to see Yasin. He is the Chief of the Military Council and therefore at the head of all military matters. A heavy man of 30 odd, small and thick set, health not very good, overworked - he looks a tired man. Withal very impressive, a strongly marked personality. I asked him to tell me what his programme would be in Mesopotamia. He said he would give me his personal views for what they were worth. It was obvious that Mesopotamia could not for the next 10 years do without foreign advice. There was no question there, as there is here, as to what European nation should provide these requirements none had any claim but England. But no one gives anything for nothing and we should ask for guarantees, i.e. we must have control. He spoke of the rapidity and ease with which 'Iraq could be developed. I pointed out that two things were lacking, (a) local population (b) unlimited funds from England; the development would not be considerable for the next 30 years. He did not seem to be convinced as to (b) though Shukan, the Sudan finance man, when he was here for a short period as financial adviser, had rubbed in that the Arab administration could not rely on the British subsidy or financial assistance from outside. Yasin then turned to the question of the Amir and said that 'Abdullah would sweep the board the moment he appeared in the 'Iraq. He admitted that Cox had now the greater name but that was only because he had worked there for 2 years. Cox would be High Commissioner to the Amir. There should be an advisory Council, appointed by the Amir with the advice of Cox. It would be mainly British but there was no reason why suitable Arabs, if such were to be found, should not be admitted. The ministers would be Arabs appointed by the Amir with the advice of the council. He entirely dismissed the idea of representative institutions - the country was not ready for them. But in the provinces, where he would have an Arab {advisor} Wali with a British advisor, the Wali might well be assisted by an elected Majlis, it being fully understood that it had nothing but local powers. These assemblies would teach the country the uses of representation and in time lead to a central elected body. If there were not sufficient trustworthy and capable men in the country to fill in high offices of the state, Arabs from outside Mesopotamia should be called in. He insisted on the necessity of close administrative union between the two sides of the Arab world. It would have been if both had been under a single mandatory, failing that there must be on either side similar educational and judicial systems and no trade restrictions of any kind. The talk, which had begun very stiffly, ended on a cordial note, Yasin occasionally laughing and quite friendly. I asked him to correspond with me if he wished to do so. \n\nMy next visit was to 'Ali Ridha Rikabi, C.A. A man of 60, ex-Turkish official (Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)], Baghdad etc) and of the type. He is by origin a Bani Richab, descended from Refa'i and related to the Bait al Naqib of Basrah. His family has been settled in Damascus for 400 years. He is extremely corrupt. The best example of his dealings here was an order making the {Turkish pound} majidah worth 16 beshliks instead of 8; it lasted for 24 hours during which the C.A. purchased many thousand beshliks and unloaded with great profit on the succeeding days. His talk was of no special interest, almost exclusively anti French. \n\nI dined with Majors Clayton and Wagman and a young officer from Aleppo. Clayton fears here, not the Arab army, but massacre. The anti Xian feeling, which was almost dead in Syria has been much excited by recent events, chiefly by the obvious preference which the French have given to the Maronites from whom all their interpreters and native officials are drawn. He thinks the existing administrations ought never to have been set up, the whole country left under British military control. If the French had never come to OETA W and N the situation would probably have been better. There are frequent small disturbances - between Matawali and Xians etc. He wishes we had never embarked on the Arab alliance, notwithstanding the danger of submarines in the Red Sea. Security has s....... decreased in {the} OETA E, robberies etc of frequent occurrance. A French officer would certainly not be safe at any distance from [sic]. In Aleppo anti French feeling runs even higher than here but Zaid fears that they are buying over many people. They have spent money like water and have innumerable agents in Aleppo. The young man from Aleppo said he thought the people there were much less well armed than Clayton thinks them to be here. A British aeroplane, fantastically painted, flew over Aleppo recently; the people thought it was French and gathered in crowds saying they would not have it. The hotel keepers in Damascus have made fantastic sums out of British officers, and the Arab officers spend money like water. No attempt has been made to regulate exchange - incidentally, gold coinage is plentiful. Turkish soldiers, probably Mustafa Kamal's people have peacefully occupied two points on the Baghdad rly, one near Kilis and one at the junction of the Alexandretta [Iskenderun (Alexandria ad Issum)] line, and are prepared to cut communications when the row begins. With Mustafa Kamal at Koniah [Konya (Iconium)], there is no longer through communication with C'ple. The Druzes are now solidly with the Nationalists, at any rate the Druzes of the Hauran. So are all the Christians but the Maronites and Catholics.

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