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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
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Suwaidi, Yusuf al-
Cox, Percy
Philby, Harry St John
Churchill, Winston
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Ap 12 Darling Father. The strike news is a horrible anxiety which underlies everything we are doing and thinking here. As we know nothing but the bare outlines furnished by Reuter there's room for unlimited speculation which, whatever shape it may take, never looks encouraging. I shall be so immensely thankful when the news improves - if it does. Also I long for word of you and Mother and Maurice; you must all be having a horrible time. It will be weeks before I get your first letter from home.
We arrived at Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] on the afternoon of the 7th, landed at Ma'qil [Ma'qil, Al] - where you landed - and found our special train drawn up on the quay. There were also there to meet us the Shaikh of Muhammarah, Ahmad Pasha Sani' (with whom you dined - he is now Mutasarrif of Basrah) another very well known citizen called 'Abdul Latif Pasha Mandil (you did not see him - he was away) and a young advocate called Muzahim Pachahji, belonging to the big Pachahji family of Baghdad, a friend of mine and a strong supporter of Faisal. We knew well what most of them came to say, and they said it. The Shaikh wanted to enquire what chance he had of becoming Amir of Mesopotamia - he retired at once to Sir Percy's carriage and pursued this enquiry. Sir Percy discouraged him; he said of course he could not say that the Shaikh was not a proper candidate but he advised him personally to desist as it would be time and money thrown away. Meantime I interviewed the others. First Muzahim who hotly urged that Faisal was the only man who would be generally acceptable or could found an Arab state, then Ahmad Pasha and Abdul Latif Pasha who said they had come to beg that whatever happened to the rest of the Iraq, Basrah might be left under British sovereignty and so keep clear of the uncertainties and disturbances which they foresaw elsewhere. I advised them to look further ahead and said I felt certain that an Arab state in Baghdad would never leave in peace a Basrah under British rule and that their sons and their sons' sons would be on the side of the Arab state. It is possible that part of their anxiety is due to the shaikh's efforts to secure their suffrages and Talib's efforts to make them partizans of the Naqib and himself. They want none of them and for the sake of peace ask for the British.

With that Sir Percy and I changed partners and the Shaikh pumped me as to candidature. Without collusion I gave him almost exactly the same answer that he had received from Sir Percy. He left us visibly crestfallen but I don't think convinced.

It was about 7 p.m. when we got off. We had dinner in our restaurant car and breakfast in it next morning at Khidhr [Khidr, Al] between Ur and Samawah [Samawah, As]. We got to Diwaniyah [Diwaniyah, Ad] at lunch time where there were various shaikhs and P.O.s to meet us, and to Hillah [Hillah, Al] at 6 pm where we spent the night up to 4 am. At Hillah we saw none of the notables who didn't know we were there, but heard the news from our officials.

There has been a considerable change since our departure. Talib, despairing of making a direct hit, is backing the Naqib as Amir with the intentions of inheriting from him. He made an extensive tour during our absence, arranged for great receptions of himself wherever he went and in veiled terms pressed the merits of the Naqib upon the attention of his audiences. He cut very little ice, none as regards himself - the country remains definitely hostile to him - and not much as regards the Naqib. But as at Basrah, the Middle Euphrates is tired of alarums and excursions, depressed by the failure of the reBellion and the Hillah district at any rate would choose, if it could, direct British rule. It must however be remembered that they probably think that's the choice we should like and that the last thing they think we should like would be a son of the Sharif - didn't they ask for one last year and get jumped on for their pains? I take it that's their simple and somewhat inadequate reasoning and that it affects the expression of their opinions. In Baghdad other considerations come into the field. The notables, who are extremely exclusive, don't like the idea that the young men - mostly of no family - who dominated Syria under Faisal may possibly dominate 'Iraq. Their ideas don't accord with those of the young men who are very progressive and apt to talk too loudly and continuously of the need of getting the old fogies out and the new lights in - there's a great deal of truth in it but it doesn't, you'll readily understand make them popular. The notables therefore jump at the possibility of putting in the Naqib and shut their eyes to the possibility of Talib's succeeding him; there are very few of them, if any, who would accept Talib.

Im Grossen und Ganzen the Naqib's party which didn't exist when we left has a very real existence now. Nevertheless the majority of people even in Baghdad are waiting to see what indications we give before they declare themselves, all except the group of younger enthusiasts who plump for a Sharif whatever happens.

I got an enormous mail at Khidhr and spent the day in the train reading letters and papers, including some delightful letters from you and Mother written before you knew I was going to Cairo. Also letters from George and Blanche pressing me to go to Poona [Pune] in August even though she won't be there. Perhaps I may do so.

We got to Baghdad at 7.30 a.m. on the 9th. There was a great gathering to greet us - Aurelia and Mr Tod, I need not say, with a motor for me. They carried me off to breakfast and I began to get the hang of things from him. I was glad to see them. Later I went to the office and began to pick up threads. One disastrous bit of news awaited us. Gen. Ironside had refused to come up with us by train and had arranged to fly. It was a horrible day of dust storms, his pilot was obliged to make a forced landing at Khidhr, the aeroplane ran into a canal bank, turned over and Gen. Ironside broke his thigh. He seems to be doing well for they have been able to take him down to the Basrah hospital, but a broken thigh is a very serious thing and he is sure to be on his back for weeks. He was coming out to perform a very difficult job in an incredibly short time - the enrolling of Kurdish Levies and taking over with them the frontier posts in the north - and it was only because it was he who had undertaken to do it that one thought it could be accomplished within the specified period. His accident is a very grave setback for there's no one here - and I doubt if there's anyone anywhere - who has just his qualifications.

I lunched with Capt Clayton and , then had a long and very satisfactory talk with Mr Philby in my house, and next a visit from two ardent Sharifians, Nuri Pasha Sa'id (Ja'far's brother in law) and Naji Suwaidi who had returned from Syria while I was away. He is by far the best of the younger men. I made friends with him in Aleppo [Halab] in 1919. His father, Yusuf Suwaidi (he dropped in one morning when you were here to explain that he could not come to my tea party) was one of the leaders of the revolt; if Naji had been in Baghdad I've always thought he would have prevented him from taking the line he took, and possibly he might have stopped the appeal to the tribes. I found him most reasonable - all he asks is that we shall remain neutral and give both sides an equal chance. I don't need to tell him - nor can I tell him - that I'm wholly in sympathy with his aims; he knows quite well that he will get all the help from me that I can give and one way and another I can give a good deal without departing from an outward neutrality. Saiyid Husain Afnan followed on the heels of these two and I ended the day by dining with the Tods. All my household is flourishing - Mizhir has got another son; really Mizhir will have to restrict his output which already runs to four.

I spent the whole of next day - Sunday - getting through papers in the office and came back to tea and a number of visitors, mostly European. Yesterday and today have been very busy days with a great deal of work and a great many callers. Saiyid Talib paid me a visit yesterday afternoon but the conversation was quite harmless, being confined to assurances on his part that he was not a candidate and assurances on mine that H.M.G. would not try to impose any candidate contrary to the wishes of the people. I go to see the Naqib tomorrow. Sir Percy has already had a long talk with him. He says that he does not intend to carry on any campaign on his own behalf but that if he were elected he would not refuse the Amirate. He protested against any candidate from outside to which Sir Percy replied with spirit that he could not agree that the people had not the right to elect a son of the Sharif or the Shaikh of Muhammarah, if they wished, nor could H.M.G. raise any objection to either. That, I feel sure, is quite the right line to take and I have copied it faithfully.

Naji Suwaidi is quite confident. He tells me he is in close touch with the Shi'ahs and he feels certain that with a fair field the country will go for Faisal. The latter arrives at Suez (I think) tomorrow so that in a week or 10 days we ought to be receiving the telegrams he is to address to his supporters announcing his candidature. By that time Sir Percy ought to be able to make a fuller pronouncement for he will have received permission from Mr Churchill who will have consulted the Cabinet at home. Things should therefore begin to move pretty quickly.

Sir Percy seems happy; I think he is rather enjoying it and he is certainly playing his part admirably well.

Goodbye dearest Father and Mother - I think of you all the time. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

It hasn't been the least hot so far, rather nasty weather, alternate dust storms and north winds. The river has risen 7 ft in the last 2 days and is coming down in mighty flood.

Major Longrigg, who was our host at Kirkuk is going on leave. I've told him to call on you in London.

IIIF Manifest