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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father Hugh Bell, written over the course of several days from the 23th to the 26th of June, 1921.

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Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Naqib, Talib al-
Cox, Percy
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Eskell, Sassoon
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

June 23 Faisal arrives in Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] today. We've thrown our die - the next few days will show whether it's a winning number. His adherents anticipate that his coming will be the sign for a great popular ovation - Heaven send it may be so for it will immensely simplify matters for us. Meantime there can be no question that it is regarded with anxiety by the magnates. On Monday we had a strong deputation from Basrah bringing a petition in which they asked for separate treatment for the Basrah area. They were ready to accept a common king, and in conversation they declared that Faisal would suit them, but they asked that Basrah might have a separate legislative assembly, a separate army and police service and raise and spend its own taxes, making a suitable contribution to the central administration. They came to me on their way to Sir Percy and asked me to support their request. I said No; whatever H.M.G. decided would have my loyal support as a government servant, but until that decision was given I must excercise [sic] my private opinion which was that what they asked was not in the interests of the country as a whole and would not prove to be permanently in their own interests, though it might be to their immediate advantage to keep out of the distractions attendant on the founding of a new state. With that they went to Sir Percy who gave them a sympathetic hearing but said in general terms that he could not conceal from them that H.M.G. wanted to see a united 'Iraq. However a large degree of local autonomy would be consistent with that end and a compromise on those lines should be considered. Sasun Eff. who had a talk with the leading man of this deputation, Abdul Latif Pasha Mandil, asked him whether Basrah were ready to take over Nasiriyah [Nasiriyah, An], which was part of the old Basrah wilayet, and when 'Abdul Latif replied in the negative, he pointed out very reasonably that the Basrah petitioners were shirking all the difficulties and reserving for themselves only a wealthy and peaceful enclave which nobody doubted could be easily run and administered. Meantime we get wails from the opposite party in Basrah saying that the petition doesn't represent the majority, that signatures to it were got by intimidation etc. I don't myself believe that these complaints are true; at any rate the petition represents the views of practically all the solid merchants and landowners. I saw Sasun in the afternoon at the Library Committee - I've been elected President of the Baghdad Public Library - and he came back to my house for a talk. In the evening I met all the world at a most successful party given by the Garbetts. Their garden and terrace on the river were carpeted and lighted with lamps, not to speak of a full moon, and everyone of importance in the town was there. We spent a most agreeable and friendly evening and talked no politics, though the air was heavy with coming events. The Reception Committee got their programme through the Council on Monday and the Mutasarrif, Rashid Beg, a strong Sharifian, brought it in to me for Sir Percy's approval on Tuesday. What they wanted to know was what part Sir Percy was going to take and above all whether we would provide a guard of honour. I promised to get the reply as soon as possible. But things don't go as quickly as that and yesterday morning, Wed., Rashid Beg turned up again and said they had had no answer. Later in the morning I arranged that he and Majid Beg al Shawi should come in and have a personal interview. Meantime Nuri Sa'id, who had been in Basrah, had seen me the previous evening and told me about the popular demonstration. He thought it might result in an immediate aclamation of Faisal as King and asked me anxiously whether we should mind that. I answered in suitable terms that we ony wanted to know the opinion of the country and didn't mention how very well such a turn of affairs would suit us. All this I reported to Sir Percy that night at a ball given by Lady Cox and it may have partly influenced his answer to Rashid Beg next morning - anyway Faisal is to have his guard of honour both at Basrah and here. I had a fantastic evening on Tuesday. Mme Talib and her children were leaving that night for Basrah on the way to Ceylon [Sri Lanka] to join Talib and I thought I really must go to the station to see her off. Sir Percy agreed that it would be much better and I set off to the station at 9 pm in my evening clothes. I was very glad I had gone for several of Saiyid Talib's friends or supposed friends made acte de presence, and it wouldn't have looked well if Sir Percy had not been represented. I saw her comfortable [sic] installed and then waited to do the same by the wife of the Heir Apparent of Persia for his party was also travelling that night to Basrah for India and Europe. If he catches trains in Europe the same way he does here he won't often get anywhere. He was half an hour late arriving at the station and even then was in no hurry to get himself packed in. His wife is a charming little lady brought up in Brussels [Bruxelles] and dying to get out of Mohammadan countries to somewhere where she can drop her veil. Having disposed of her and her women and eunuchs I set off to Lady Cox's ball which was given at the Sport's Club right away north near Mu'adhdham [Azamiyah, Al]. It was a beautiful night with a moon and a cool wind and they danced out of doors on druggets spread on the grass. I expect it was rather heavy going but I didn't put it to the test. I sat out and talked to people, supped with Sir Percy and came home with Mr Tod at midnight, while the gay Lady Cox danced till 4 a.m! I must tell you that Shaikh Khaz'al has abandoned his candidature for the throne of 'Iraq, with a beau geste declaring that Faisal was a candidate he considered him infinitely more suitable than himself and would henceforth devote all his efforts to supporting him. I hear he is being as good as his word; he met the Baghdad deputation at the station when they arrived and has actively participated in preparations for Faisal's reception. I expect Faisal will come to terms with the Basrah magnates and satisfy them that Basrah will receive full consideration. Mr Cornwallis is with him - a tower of strength and wisdom; I've sent him a letter explaining how the wind blows throughout the 'Iraq and as soon as he comes up here I shall be able to keep him posted in local politics. Oddly enough Mr Philby, who is strongly anti-Sharifian and has really been doing a good deal of harm by openly advocating a republic (very wrong of him) has also gone down to Basrah "on business". I hope it means that he wants to make his peace with Faisal. June 26. [26 June 1921] I left off writing to go out to dinner with the Shaikh of Chabaish [Kabaish, Al] - it's near the Hammar Lake [Hammar, Hawr al] - who is here in his capacity as Minister without portfolio. He is a wealthy man and has just bought a very expensive motor which he sent to fetch me to dinner. Really the combination of tribal shaikhs and motor cars of the latest pattern is one to which I find it difficult to adjust myself. Shaikh Salim has considerable ability and even more ambition. He's a strong supporter of the idea of a republic mainly, I think, because he believes he might become President - a fantastic notion. It was a pleasant party, all my intimate friends such as Abdul Majid Shawi and Fakhri Jamil, but Lord! such a hot night! A burning wind which scorched us as we sat on Shaikh Salim's balcony on the river bank. Yesterday we had news of Faisal's arrival in Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] and an excellent reception, heaven be praised. The news came from Mr Philby whom by a master stroke of policy Sir Percy sent down to Basrah to meet Faisal. I can't help hoping that Faisal will make a conquest and that Mr Philby will come back an ardent Sharifian. Faisal has now gone off to Najaf [Najaf, An] and Karbala and gets here on Wed. 29th. Half my mornings have been spent in receiving visits from the Mutasarrif or exchanging messages with him on the telephone about the reception and festivities here. We have got it right at last I think. Mosul [Mawsil, Al] also is coming forward. A large deputation of all the leading people came down here last night and Nuri Sa'id, whom I saw this morning, tells me that their line of argument is that they can't think why there's such division of opinion here and that far the best course is to proclaim Faisal King at once. This is extremely satisfactory for Mosul up to now has been very sticky and we have had gloomy messages from Mr Nalder to the effect that our Sharifian policy would never be accepted. The magnates now declare that they couldn't come out into the open before because they thought that Mr Nalder wouldn't like it. The truth is that from top - or near the top - to bottom, our English Civil Service hasn't got the right perspective and but for Sir Percy's calm assurance that the thing would go through, I should often have despaired of it myself. Nuri Sa'id came in one night last week to tea and said that if they hadn't had my constant help they could not have carried on, and I replied that I stood fast all the time in Sir Percy's unswerving purpose. But I have been useful to them, all the same, these last weeks and I'm glad I've been here. I'm told that Naji Suwaidi is in favour of a mandate rather than the proposed treaty, because a mandate gives us more authority! Faisal wants a treaty I know, so probably that's the way it will work out, and for my part I think it's quite immaterial. You can't run a mandate without the good will of the people and if you've got that it doesn't matter whether it's a mandate or a treaty, but what rejoices me is the fulfilment of my dream that we should sit by in an attitude of repose and have them running up our front door steps to beg us to be more active! I know there are difficulties ahead; the rub will come when we have to help them against their own extremists, but nothing is insurmountable so long as they are not straining against our rein. You understand, these men with whom Sir Percy and I are working are bitterly anti- panislamic and bitterly anti-Turkish. They regard us as their best hope in winning through to pan-Arabism, and so we are here in Mesopotamia but I fear in the future we shall be hampered by our support of Zionism in Palestine and the French in Syria, neither of which is consistent with a pan-Arab policy. This morning, Sunday, I went for a long ride with Mr Tod before breakfast and tonight we have a swimming party on his launch which should make a well-spent Sunday. I forgot to tell you that Marie hadn't after all cracked a bone and she is now nearly well. My wardrobe has benefited by her enforced inactivity. This week I've had letters from you and Mother dated May 25, yours with 2 delightful photographs of Bill. He must be most engaging. Goodbye and bless you both, including Maurice. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude Already the whole town is flying the Sharifian flag. I saw it today flying on every other shop in the bazaar. The intention is good but the flag heraldically bad - I don't know if you know it? The red triangle comes over the black and green which is colour on colour [illustration] and therefore wrong, isn't it?

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