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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cox, Percy
Wilson, A.T.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Eskell, Sassoon
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

June 14 Baghdad Dearest Father. I have your letter from Aden [('Adan)] and a word from Mother, also tell her, the shoes from Yapp, most welcome. Did I ever announce to her the arrival of my linen riding habit? It's perfect, I've wired for another, wegen the wash. But though linen habits are essential we're having a remarkably cool year. It has rarely been 110 as yet. I've become such a salamander that this is the sort of temp. I like. We have had a stormy week. The Nationalist propaganda increases. There are constant meetings in mosques where the mental temp. rises a great deal about 110. I enclose an exposition of the moderate party. The extremists are out for independence, without a mandate. At least they say they are, knowing full well in their hearts that they couldn't work it. They play for all they are worth on the passions of the mob and what with the Unity of Islam and the Rights of the Arab Race they make a fine figure. They have created a reign of terror; if anyone says boo in the bazaar it shuts like an oyster. There has been practically no business done for the last fortnight. They send bagsful of letters daily to all the tribes urging them to throw off the infidel yoke. The tribes haven't responded except with windy talk. I personally don't think there will be an outbreak either here or in the provinces, but it's touch and go, and it's the thing above all others that I'm anxious to avoid. In point of fact I'm entirely in sympathy with Sulaiman Faidhi, whose views I enclose. It's much the sort of thing I've been saying anytime during the last 8 months. One or other of them drops in to see me most nights after dinner and they begin again at 7.30 a.m. Not the extremists but the moderates and the people on our side who want to be comforted. Presently the extremists will begin coming also. The Naqib held out as long as he could - he hates the whole business - but at last his hand was forced and he was obliged to let them hold a meeting in his mosque. He wasn't himself present. The wildest revolutionary stuff was talked and everyone shouted himself hoarse in the name of Arab independence. The Mayor, 'Abdul Mujid Shawi, has stood as firm as a rock - it's he who mostly pays visits at 7.30 am. Between us we hammered out a scheme for letting the agitators send a deputation to London. AT [Wilson] approves and I hear now that they're all talking of it themselves on their own account. What really would simplify matters would be if they would ask for Abdullah, Faisal's brother, for Amir. Abdullah is a gentleman who likes a copy of the Figaro every morning at breakfast time. I haven't any doubt we should get on with him famously. Then recall the Mesopotamians from Syria and set up your national govt. as quick as you can - they are some of them capable men with considerable experience. If we meet them on equal terms there won't be any difficulty in getting them to act with wisdom. That is and has been, as you know, my view ever since I came back. Meantime my own path has been very difficult. I had an appalling scene last week with AT. We had been having a sort of honeymoon and then most unfortunately I gave one of our Arab friends here a bit of information I ought not technically to have given. It wasn't of much importance (Frank agrees) and it didn't occur to me I had done wrong till I mentioned it casually to AT. He was in a black rage that morning and he vented it on me. He told me my indiscretions were intolerable, and that I should never see another paper in the office. I apologized for that particular indiscretion but he continued: "You've done more harm than anyone here. If I hadn't been going away myself I should have asked for your dismissal months ago - you and your Amir! -" At this point he choked with anger. So I said, "All right, I've done more harm than anyone - now just listen to what I've got to tell you for it's important." And I gave him the information I had come to give him. After that I didn't see him for 2 days, for the first he was away and the second was Sunday. Today I find papers waiting for me in the office as usual; at lunch AT was most pleasant, I was pleasanter still. What's in his heart I haven't the least idea, nor do I intend to ask, but it's almost incredible, isn't it. "You and your Amir" is very nearly as masterly a phrase as the "born intriguer." I know really what's at the bottom of it - I've been right and he has been wrong. I need not say I've been at much pains not to point it out, but unfortunately it's all on paper. If you'll look up my Syrian report you'll find in it a draft of a Mesopot. constitution by Yasin which I thought was quite reasonable and said so. A.T. sent a covering letter in which he stated that anything of the kind was entirely incompatible with the British control, and he told me he would never accept it. If you've got the copy of the constitutional proposals of Sir Edgar's committee, which A.T. sent home, you'll find they are more liberal than Yasin's proposals, and when AT made his speech to the deputation - I sent it you last week - he was obliged to say that they might have an Amir if they liked. Of course we can't prevent it, nor have we any interest in doing so. But I know well that if this attitude had been adopted 8 months ago, we should not now be in the very delicate position in which we find ourselves. And I expect AT knows it too. I think myself that he ought to go now, because he never can be in real sympathy with the policy which was laid down from home in 1918; he has in fact always ignored it. And the people know very well that he isn't in sympathy with it and don't trust him. Meantime it may be I who goes. But I shall not send in my resignation. I shall only go if I'm ordered. Thank heaven Sir Percy will be here next week, on his way through to England, so I can consult him if necessary. You know, AT has very fine qualities, but he has also very horrid ones. You had better keep all this to yourself and Mother. But it's not easy when your immediate chief says he would if he could - for that's what it comes to - have asked for your dismissal months ago, even if he doesn't mean it, and I think he doesn't. To turn to minor occurrences. I've written 3 articles, at the request of AT (this was before the aforesaid row) about the League of Nations and the Mandate. Both AT and Sir Edgar are much pleased with them and they are to be published here in English and Arabic. I'll send them to you. Secondly Major Clayton has arrived to take a job here. He is Sir Bertie Clayton's brother and was Political Officer at Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] when I passed through. I like him particularly. The day after his arrival - a Sunday - he came to see me at my house and we talked for 3 hours. I realized while we talked what it has been like to battle against the stream all these months, for he takes what I think to be the same view about Arab nationalism. I hope he may do a great deal of good and help to change the colour of the administration, ours, I mean. How he'll get on with AT remains to be seen. And who do you think has rolled up? Flight Commander Barnet who stepped smiling into my office and introduced himself as Sybil's husband. A charming man - he is in command of the air force here and she is coming out in the autumn. It's all one to me - I shan't rake up any pasts! He came to call on Sunday but I had to send him away because I was having a heart to heart talk with Sir Edgar about the political situation. But he'll come again and again, you bet, and for my part I shall be quite glad to see him. And her too, if you come to that. Fattuh left last week for Aleppo [Halab] via Mosul [Mawsil, Al], but just at that moment the Shammar attacked the line in 3 places and were driven off with very heavy loss. But the Mosul road was temporarily closed - pas de chance, Fattuh! - so he came back here and is staying with me again till the coast is clear. What adds very considerably to the excitement and unrest in Baghdad is that the Persian trade is stopped. About 60% of all imports go to Persia and of those about 80% are destined for Resht [Rasht] and Tabriz. The Bolshevists being at Resht and also astride the Tabriz road this trade is interrupted. The obvious remedy is that we and Persia should come to terms with the Bolshevists and Persia is already taking that line. I hope it won't be long before we take it too. You'll be interested to hear that Saiyid Muhammad al Sadr, the son of the old mujtahid you went to see at Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)], is the leading figure in the present disturbances. You called on Saiyid Mhd first, you remember. I believe him to be a shrewd and sensible man and I can't think that we could not come to a working agreement with him if we tried. Ramadhan ends this week, thank the Lord, and then something may be done. But as I've said before, when you're hungry and thirsty, and then over-eaten, you're not good at logic. I'm making great friends with two Jews, brothers - one rather famous, as a member of the Committee of Union and Progress and a deputy for Baghdad. His name is Sasun Eff. The other Sha'al, (which is Saul) is the leading Jew merchant here. They have recently come back from C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)] - they were at the first tea party I gave for you, here. I've known Sha'al's wife and family a long time - they are very interesting and able men. Sasun, with his reputation and his intelligence, ought to be a great help. There! I feel as if I were living through such storms that I never mind much what happens next. Frank and Aurelia have been sheet anchors. Your affectionate daughter Gertrude

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