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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
Askari, Ja'far al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Lawrence, T.E.
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Eskell, Sassoon
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad. July 16 Darling Father. The heat is terrific - day after day over 121 and the nights hot too. It's only the few hours before and at dawn which give you a little reasonable feeling of coolness. Sir Percy and I think we ought to put at the end of difficult telegrams home: NB temp. 121.8. On the other hand politics are running on wheels greased with extremely well-melted grease and Sir Percy and Faisal are scoring great triumphs. On Monday 11th the Council, at the instance of the Naqib, rose to the fly I described to you in my last letter even more perfectly than we could have hoped. They unanimously declared Faisal King and charged the Ministry of the Interior with the necessary arrangements. I was dining alone that night and feeling anxious - the heat makes one not quite normal I think. You may fancy what it was like to get to the office next morning and hear this news from Sir Percy the moment I arrived. He added that he felt, good as this was, that it wasn't enough and that we must have an election by referendum to be able to prove that Faisal had the voice of the people. With that one of Faisal's ADCs telephoned to me and asked me to go round. I found him radiant - it was very different from my first early morning visit the day after he arrived! but eagerly insisting on the need of a referendum through the machinery of the Ministry of the Interior which, I was able to assure him was exactly what Sir Percy wanted too. Mr Cornwallis joined us and we three sat rejoicing together for a few minutes. His anti chamber was a sight to gladden one - full of Baghdad notables and shaikhs from all parts of the 'Iraq. I went back to Sir Percy to report. The thing we have been working for seems to be in fair way to fulfilment. Sir Percy and Faisal between them are making a new Sharifian party composed of all the solid moderate people, and the old Sharifian party which raised the revolt is sinking into an obscurity not even decent, for it lies or will lie submerged under the dislike and suspicion of everyone. Faisal has played his part; he has handled his overzealous adherents with admirable discretion. On the previous Saturday at a huge meeting in one of the Shi'ah independent schools, a lawyer, lately interned in Henjam [Henqam], claiming to represent all the legal profession, proclaimed him King. Faisal at once turned him down, saying that if he had known what he intended to say he would not have let him speak, that he hadn't come to impose himself on the 'Iraq and that he held to it that the people should have the opportunity of saying whether they wanted him or not. I think he gained more adherents by that speech than by any of his faits et gestes since he landed in Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)]. The truth is one doesn't mind what sort of crowd he has got round him - one knows he will deal with them rightly.
We were not, however, quite through the wood. His more ardent adherents, egged on I think by Saiyid Mhd Sadr (of whose pretentions Faisal is growing heartily weary) composed a formula of allegiance in which there was a great deal of talk of an absolutely free and independent 'Iraq and proceeded to circulate it broadcast for signature. The idea was that it should be carried out into the provinces by Baghdadis and be signed by everyone from the paramount shaikh to the pauper. It might have created a serious difficulty. The provinces have the profoundest mistrust of the Baghdadis and very likely would have declined to sign. The Amir Rabi'ah (head of the big Rabi'ah tribe, a nice boy who describes himself as "one of the household" - ie our household) came in to me in consternation and asked what this meant; he wasn't going to sign an unofficial document in which there was no mention of our continued presence. And on his heels came Umran al Haji Sa'dun, head of the Bani Hasan (and one of the leaders of the revolt!) and several others, all asking if this was our {paper} declaration and whether they should sign it. It was all right: Faisal had called up Naji Suwaidi the previous evening and told him to stop the thing and at a conference which had taken place early that morning between him and Sir Percy it had been decided that the advisor to the Interior - dear little Mr Thomson - should form a small committee at once of people like Majid Shawi (tactfully including Naji Suwaidi who had drawn up the unofficial formula!) and compose an official declaration which should be circulated through the country by means of the Mutasarrifs and Qaimmaqams. So I was able to send my visitors away comforted by telling them to wait till the real thing appeared. Thus we rounded another corner.

Meantime a rather pretty and quite harmless episode had occurred. The Mayor of Mu'adhdham [Azamiyah, Al] summoned together all the leading townsmen and they spontaneously swore allegiance to Faisal and sent him a deputation to tell him so. I liked that.

It is very significant that the Kamalists as soon as they heard that Faisal was coming began a hot propaganda in favour of their candidate, Shaikh Ahmad Idrisi, the Sanusi - he hails from the deserts west of Egypt where that tiresome Mrs Rosita Forbes went. The first we heard of it was when one of the citizens of Mosul [Mawsil, Al] brought to Mr Nalder a document calling on all Iraqis to swear fealty to the Sanusi. It had been thrown into his courtyard. The next news came from a gentleman called the Naqib of Samarra who has been with the Turks ever since 1918 and has just come in. He has a very roguish reputation but I rather took to him. He told me that the Turks had invited him to bring down these allegiance papers and that he had refused, though he mentioned others who had accepted. Sure enough, that very day, another gentleman came to Ja'far Pasha and produced 80 of them which he asked Ja'far to hand over to Faisal! The Sanusi doesn't therefore seem to be cutting much ice and the very thing is happening which we desired, namely that Faisal's presence is striking Turkish propaganda dead. There's no talk of the Turks in the coffee shops these days; they talk of Faisal's last speech and of whether there will be a referendum - splendid, isn't it.

The mere fact that wild fowl like the Naqib of Samarra are flocking in or sending messages to Faisal to ask if they may come is very satisfactory. It looks as if they had not much confidence in the Turco-Sanusi scheme. Faisal deals with these requests with the utmost propriety. He tells the messengers that the outlaws who sent them must seek for pardon from Govt and therewith sends them in to us. I see them, get Sir Percy's orders, and let Faisal know that he is to send them out to their clients and tell them to come in and see Sir Percy. So that Faisal gets the kudos and we retain our decent rights! Incidentally some of these messengers are the most remarkable people, 'Aqail who fought with Mr Lawrence, whom I greet as friends once removed.

The office of a morning is flooded with tribal shaikhs. Today they were sitting in rows on the ground under the awnings of the courtyard. They come up to see Faisal and pay their respects to Sir Percy and incidentally to me. Sometimes - mostly - what they come to learn is whether Faisal has our support. They hear it first from me and then from Sir Percy and I think they go away satisfied. This week it has been the Euphrates; next week it will be the Tigris. Tonight Faisal has 50 of them to dinner.

Dinners! in this weather they really are a trial. The Coxes gave one to Faisal on Wednesday. I was well off for I sat by Air Vice Marshall Sir Geoffrey Salmond who has flown over from Cairo in 9 hours and says he never suffered so much as he has in being transplanted so rapidly from the temperate climate of Egypt to our torrid zone. Next night, being July 14, we all had to go to a ball given by the French consul, it being their Day. I had Major Yetts (in from Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar]) and Mr Thomson to dinner first. Barring that we were all melting it was a very amusing dinner because they told such delightful Arab stories one against the other. Like this one of Major Yetts's: when a Mutasarrif was appointed to Ramadi last January, a noted highwayman of the Dulaim tribe came to Major Yetts and asked whether he should oblige by knifing the Mutasarrif on arrival. Major Yetts thanked him for his kind thought but said it wasn't necessary. I think I never felt anything like the heat at that French ball. I didn't stay very long and while I was there I sat outside most of the time talking to Sasun Eff and Sir Geoffrey. But outside was almost as hot as inside. The French Consul has received instructions from his Govt to pay no attention whatever to Faisal! it will be a little difficult for him when Faisal is King.

Next day I did something much nicer. Sir Geoffrey came to tea with me and then carried me off to swim with the Coxes and the Airforce. It was heavenly. The temperature of the water must be well over 80; you stay in till after sunset but don't think for a moment that it's cool after sunset. It's about the hottest hour of the day.

July 17. [17 July 1921] In the middle of the week the Govt Girls' School had a breaking up function. Lady Cox came, at the instance of Sir Percy, and was very pleasant. It was quite a good function - the usual songs and recitations on the part of the children and crowds of proud mothers looking on. But the heat, and the length of it! Lady Cox stayed nearly an hour and I stayed an hour and a half - I ought to have stayed to the end, but it wasn't in sight. The last number that I witnessed was a domestic scene in which a large doll was undressed and washed and put to bed, but it didn't carry as much conviction as it should, for they put the doll to bed wrapped up in the wet towel they had just dried it with.
Last night I dined with one of the poor waifs who are cast up on our shores from Persia - Qasim Khan who was Military Governor of Tehran [(Teheran)] under Zia al Din. I thought him a particularly nice and interesting creature but alas! what chance is there for political enthusiasts of that sort in Persia? The situation there is far from reassuring. The Bolshevist minister is making a tremendous propaganda and with Persia in the state of chaos that it is in there's nothing which can gather itself together and oppose him. A Bolshevist Persia all along our East flank won't be pleasant. Qasim Khan is married to a Christian girl from Constantinople [Istanbul] - she is no asset to him, a stupid vulgar little creature; but the trouble is that the educated Moslem will marry almost anyone rather than a completely uneducated Moslem woman. I shall have to ask them to dinner.

This morning I rode before breakfast with Mr Tod and the CampBell Mackies. Even at that hour a haze of dust and heat was hanging over the world. We took it easily and didn't go far. We are swimming this evening, a large party including Sir Geoffrey and the Coxes. It's the only possible form of excercise [sic] in this weather.

The Philby business is clearing up. It has been very horrid for me, for in their angry amazement at having to suffer for what was entirely his own fault they have accused me of being the cause of his dismissal - at least she has. But I think she has thought better of it; she came to lunch with the Coxes and was very pleasant, and he lunched yesterday to say goodbye; he has gone up to Persia for a bit. We came home together after lunch and he said he had hopes that he might get some job here on land settlement, but he thought he had better leave politics alone. I should be very glad if he got some work of that kind here. He is very capable and devoted to the country; he's not a man we can afford to lose.

I've got Mother's letter of June 15 with an enclosure from Alice Egerton and also your letter of June 16. I hope the Dow. Lady Carlisle will die. I'm longing for your comments on the coal strike settlement. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

IIIF Manifest