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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
Naji, Haji
Cox, Percy
Wilson, A.T.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Churchill, Winston
Askari, Ja'far al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Cox, Louisa Belle
Haldane, Aylmer
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Ap. 17 Darling Father. I've had a busy week, that's to say I've spent a great many hours of it in the office though I don't know that I've actually done much. My visit to the Naqib was a difficult one. Sir Percy had seen him two days earlier and told him firmly in response to his reiterated principle of "'Iraq for the 'Iraqis" that he could not agree that the people were not at liberty to choose a leading Arab who was not an inhabitant of Mesopotamia. To me the Naqib turned round the same theme for well onto an hour and I being forewarned took the same line of defence. With me, since I was less imposing, he was much more intransigeant [sic] than with Sir Percy. He fell into one or two grave errors which helped me. For instance he told me that his own position was due not to the fact that he was a Baghdadi but to his being "one of the leaders of Islam". I made a small score out of that later, rather to his confusion. Again he said "If someone from outside were to come in and take my house would it be right?" To which I made the obvious rejoinder that if he chose to give his house to a suitable person no one could object. He is irrevocably opposed to the candidature of a son of the Sharif and declared that he would welcome a labourer born in the 'Iraq rather than a stranger. There was a rumour - possibly put about by S. Talib - that on the way down to Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)], when we went away, I had said to persons not named that the object of the Conference was to declare Faisal king. I alluded to this and told the Naqib it was entirely untrue, but no doubt he knows - or Talib knows - that formerly when people pressed me to give my own opinion I have always said that Faisal would I thought be the best choice. I am therefore identified as a Sharifian, which I don't mind at all, but I have always been careful to say that the choice must rest with the people, and I am now careful to keep my private opinion for the present to myself and to insist on the fact that the British Govt could not under any circumstances look upon the Naqib as an unsuitable candidate. As regards the Sh. of Muhammarah I don't hesitate to say that he is unsuitable since his candidature would break up Mesopotamia - he would never be accepted in the north; and I think in this matter I have only anticipated Sir Percy who intends to come out into the open and quash the Shaikh. He has a certain following among Shi'ahs, especially in Karbala and Najaf [Najaf, An] where he has distributed a good deal of money lately "for pious objects" but his only real argument at any time would be to urge the Shi'ahs not to accept a Sunni and such an appeal to Islamic jealousies is the last one would wish to encourage. Naji, Nuri and Ja'far frequent my office. The two first have brought to see me the man they have chosen to run a newspaper in the interests of their camnpaign - a certain Abdul Latif Fallahu, recently returned from Syria. I must see more of him. Talib is holding up consent to the starting of any newspaper "until after the elections, but since Talib's consent is not legally necessary (as Minister of the Interior, I mean) I am charged by Sir Percy to get the paper started. The only existing Arab paper here is tacitly Sharifian and the editor is a friend of mine. To him only I have dropped a pretty clear hint; papers are important and must not be left in the dark. Talib may start anything he likes on his side but I fancy he knows he can't make much of a popular hit out of opposing Faisal and he is not very eager to try. Meantime telegrams are going daily to the King of the Hijaz begging him to send one of his sons. They go through me and from me to Sir Percy who has them sent by wireless - Faisal's followers dare not use the ordinary means lest Talib as Minister of the Interior should hold up the messages on the plea of censorship. All this shows how impossible it is to conduct a "free election" while one party is in possession of high office and I am firmly convinced that it will be necessary to suspend the Arab Govt as soon as Faisal comes into the field and until the elections are over. Sir Percy also inclines to this view; no one can say at present that the protagonists have equal chances. Talib will be furious but the country as a whole will I feel sure think the measure just. The functions of the Arab ministers will be carried on by the Advisors (British). We have not yet received the telegram promised by Mr Churchill after he had consulted the Cabinet; we are not therefore at liberty to make public that Faisal has H.M.G.'s consent to run as a candidate, but I felt sure that some announcement about the Conference could not be delayed and I got Sir Percy to publish a preliminary statement. It contains nothing about the elections but it says that a general amnesty will be declared very shortly and this has been received with acclamation. Some of the people to whom it applies are in Syria or Mecca [Makkah] but a good many are in prison here and will return at once to political activity; all are Sharifians. In a very short time therefore important new factors should have entered into the game: Faisal himself with his declared candidature, the pardoned leaders of last year's revolt, the Sharifian paper and the suspension of the Arab ministers. Talib is in the worst of tempers - not to me, we preserve an unbroken surface. But he gave himself away at a dinner party in his own house this week. It was in honour of Mr Landon who is here as correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. The Tods were there, a few other English people and two important Arabs, the Amir al Rabi'ah and Sh. Salim al Khaiyun of Chabaish [Kabaish, Al] - near the Hammar Lake [Hammar, Hawr al]. Talib addressed Mr Landon after dinner in a speech evidently carefully prepared. He declared himself wholly satisfied with the High Commissioner and the attitude of H.M.G. but there were British officials in H.E.'s entourage who were known to be partizans and who were excercising [sic] undue influence - did Mr Landon advise him to appeal to King George or to Sir Percy to have them removed? Mr Landon replied cleverly that there were certainly British officials who were known to favour the other side - did Talib want them all removed? Saiyid Husain Afnan who was translating, whispered in Talib's ears "He has got us" and Talib after a little bluster dropped the matter. But he went on, if any attempt is made to influence the elections here is the Amir al Rabi'ah with 30,000 rifles to know the reason why, and the Shaikh of Chabaish with all his men (NB both are extremely hostile to Talib but the latter's immense egoism prevents him from distinguishing between supporter and adversary.) And, he continued, the Naqib will appeal to Islam, to India, Egypt, Constantinople [Istanbul] and Paris (sic!) It was an incitement to reBellion as bad as anything which was said by the men who roused the country last year, and not far from a declaration of Jihad. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Talib may prosecute the electoral campaign so hotly as to find himself landed in gaol. Meantime the general attitude of the country with regard to ourselves has immensely improved. There's a concensus of opinion that whatever happens they can't do without our guidance and help. Being Sunday, I rode down early this morning to Haji Naji and had breakfasted with him on native bread, fresh unsalted butter, sugared apples and coffee. He is hand in glove with the Sharifians, thinks Naji, Nuri, Ja'far and Co the best Mesopotamians he knows and is convinced that the overwhelming majority in the country is for Faisal. Said he with his customary wisdom "Let the people do it themselves; the British Govt need not interfere." It was so restful and delicious sitting with him under his fruit trees which were in flower when I left and are now loaded with green fruit. It was a heavenly morning, a hot sun and a cool little north wind. When we had done our talk we went into the house where his wife brought me breakfast - she's the most darling woman - and proudly showed the 7 little turkeys produced by the pair I gave her at Xmas. I'm happy in helping to forward what I profoundly Bellieve to be the best thing for this country and the wish of the best of its people. It's a curious contrast to last year! Last night when I was transliterating before sending them to Sir Percy, a batch of telegrams for the Sharif Husain I couldn't help considering how very unexpected it was that I should be doing any such thing. - As I write, Capt Clayton comes in with an immense piece of news. Talib has been arrested and sent off to Fao [Faw, Al]! Sir Percy has pricked the bubble and the pin he has used, I make no doubt, was the report of Talib's speech which I handed in yesterday morning. I must tell you how it all happened. After giving in the report I saw no more of Sir Percy - I lunched with the Tods and when I came back to the office he was out. I was told he was lunching with Sir Aylmer. At 4.30 Talib came in, to have tea with Lady Cox. He sat in my office for some time, during which I carefully avoided any difficult topics. Presently I got rid of him by taking him round to Lady Cox. There were a number of people there, among them Major Bovill of G.H.Q., but I did not stop because I had some work to finish. Half an hour later Talib looked in to say goodbye - it was goodbye indeed! Major Bovill, who must have slipped out before him, met him near the bridge and told him that he regretted he had orders to arrest him. He transferred him to the C. in C.'s car, took him down to the H.Q. steps, put him into the C. in C.'s launch and sent him to Kut [Kut, Al (Kut al Imara)] whence he will go by ship to Basrah and Fao. No one knew, and I'm so glad I didn't, for I was able to get through what would otherwise have been a very difficult interview with Talib yesterday. Capt. Clayton tells me that Sir Percy sent for one of the Naqib's sons and explained the matter to him this morning. Lord! how glad I am that I gave in a careful report of that speech. I got it first from Mr Tod and then from Mr Landon and collated the two accounts so as to have it absolutely right. We were all at Turjmaniyah (you remember the Naqib's garden where we went to tea with Saiyid Muhi al Din) having tea with Saiyid Hashim, another of the Naqib's sons, and as we walked along the rose trees - such a wealth of great pink roses I never saw - I got my points correct. Capt Clayton came back to dine with me and after he had gone I wrote out the whole speech and gave it to Sir Percy first thing when I got to the Office. Exit Talib, and it's my Bellief that no one will regard his disappearance with anything but the greatest relief. But didn't I tell you that there was no one like Sir Percy in the handling of a delicate political problem! For my part I feel a load off my mind. Talib was capable of anything. He was already gathering round him the band of cut throats whom he used to employ in Turkish times at Basrah; a gentleman who was well known to have killed a Turkish general by Talib's orders (it is the most sensational episode in Talib's career) he brought up with him from Basrah the other day. It was an item which I added to my report yesterday because I wanted to warn Sir Percy that he was almost certain to attempt the assassination of Faisal if the latter came here. It's really fine, because Sir Percy is so completely covered by Talib's own indiscretion. The French Consul and the Persian Consul General were both present and the speech was delivered to the correspondent of a London paper - you can't ask for greater publicity. (It's the final unravelling of the harm that Wilson, A.T.

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