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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-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Cox, Percy
Wilson, A.T.
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Bourdillon, Bernard Henry
Drower, E.S.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad July 6. Dearest Father. I have delightful letters from you and Mother dated June 14. What an enchanting story about Juliet! It's rare to receive a proposal from one's great niece. I must now mention that the most adorable silver cigarette case has arrived - an old snuff box, isn't it? I never saw anything prettier. Also a little wooden box which is a great deal too nice to lose. We have had a very trying fortnight during the course of which the King's tide has from time to time gone down to its lowest ebb, which is very painful for such as love him. I'll begin at the beginning. I left you just at the moment when the Ministry had done nothing about the treaty except postpone its consideration for two days. Alarums and excursions followed. All the anti-mandate shaikhs and saiyids gathered from the Euphrates and on the Saturday morning parties of townsmen - Shi'ahs - visited the Naqib in relays and warned him of the shocking disasters which would result from the signature of the treaty. The King took the matter in hand, sent for Ja'far Abu Timman and told him his ministry was about to be abolished by our Geddes Committee - he wasn't to go any more to the meetings of Cabinet. Also that he had better take a journey for the good of his health. Accordingly Ja'far Abu T. sent word to the Ministers that he was sick and they all agreed like birds to sign the treaty! This resolution was confirmed at a special meeting next day, Sunday. On Monday morning all the anti-mandate lot went out to Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] to consult their oracle Shaikh Mahdi al Khalisi who told them that as H.M. had not fulfilled the conditions of his election to the throne, namely that he would preserve the independence of 'Iraq, their oath of allegiance was null and void. Turning his attention to the 'Iraq Govt he observed, that before it existed the English governed the land; they still governed it, with a pack of spendthrifts superadded - he thought the second case worse that the first. Oh I must tell you that at the Sunday meeting of Cabinet, Ja'far abu Timman reappeared and entered a solemn protest against the treaty. The King swears that this was without his knowledge and I'm afraid I don't believe him. He then ostentatiously resigned - bad staff work, for he ought to have been washed out by the Geddes Committee - after which he attended the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The King sent privately to the Naqib telling him to delay in accepting Ja'far's resignation. H.M. says it was because he had to get hold of the town and prevent ebullitions; that is either untrue or it's manifestly preposterous for everyone knew that Ja'far was to go and no one cared a button. On that same Tuesday it was rumoured that there was to be a great demonstration. The King again played up, sent for the extremists and told them that any incitor to demonstrations would be at once apprehended. At the same time Sir Percy telegraphed to Bushire [Bushehr] to ask whether the prison at Henjam [Henqam] in the Persian Gulf was in good repair - it was the place where we sent the reBells of 1920. As all important words were carefully left en claire, the news of the telegram ran quickly through the town! Sir Percy was delighted. Nothing whatever happened. After the Tuesday meeting the Naqib accepted Ja'far's resignation without waiting for further word from the King who made another attempt to stop it, but too late! So he's gone. It remains to get him out of the country. I shall believe he is gone when I hear he is in Bombay. Perhaps you think, as we did, that after the resolution at the Saturday Cabinet, all was over but the shouting? We were all watching a polo match between the 'Iraq Army and a British team that afternoon. Capt Clayton and Major Bromilow[?] played with the 'Iraq team; the 2 Arab officers were shockingly bad. and I drove away together along the Mu'adhdham [Azamiyah, al] road into Baghdad. Presently we met a motor containing one whose face emitted beams like the moon. It was Sabih Beg, Minister of Works. He hailed and stopped us, breathlessly told us of the resolution passed by the Cabinet. We went further and met another motor the occupant of which radiated glory like the sun. Who should it be but Taufiq Beg, Minister of Interior! and I went on our way rocking with laughter for we admitted that in no other country in the world should we be stopped by Cabinet Ministers that we might have imparted to as the latest decision of Govt. So elated were we that we felt we must make a night of it, so I dined with him and Capt Clayton and we sat on their roof talking till midnight. We were reckoning, however, without our - King. He withheld his consent to the resolution of the Ministers pending verbal alterations in the Arabic. Four separate times, to my certain knowledge, did he send cryptic messages to the Ministers bidding them add a refutation of the mandate to their acceptance of the treaty, though he had been told time and again that Sir Percy would refuse to send a resolution couched in these terms home to H.M.G. On the Sunday, the day when the resolution was finally passed by the Cabinet, he sent for me. I went about 5 and found all the anti-mandate shaikhs with me. He sent me a message asking me to wait and presently appeared, looking very much excited and told me that he had extracted from them an oath that they would leave the conduct of affairs to him and obey his orders. Now what orders had he really given them? All I can say is that a week later 4 of those who had been with him proceeded to Najaf [Najaf, An] where they busied themselves with collecting signatures to petitions against the mandate. Meantime the pro-mandate shaikhs had assembled in Baghdad. The King received them extremely well - though in his heart he hates them - but the palace entourage gave them clearly to understand that they were disloyal - they complained bitterly of their treatment at their hands. It made my blood boil to hear them relate how, as they were sitting in the big waiting room at the palace, two or three of the anti-British shaikhs were reading aloud the abominable local papers and with a few of the minor Chamberlains joking over the probability that British influence in the 'Iraq would presently be represented by the High Commissioner alone, and seven aeroplanes. They rightly complained that such talk was not fitting in the King's audience chambers. They all came to see Sir Percy and me - I need not tell you what kind of reception they got. They are risking everything in the conviction that unless their country gets British help and guidance they are risking more than everything. So a week passed. Last Monday, July 3rd, the Council for the Nth time passed the final version of the treaty, together with a resolution that they would agree to no further alterations. You will scarcely believe that the King then raised another objection which involved an alteration in the English text. I never saw the High Commissioner more deeply disappointed and perturbed. Finally he agreed to a formula which he said he would send home on condition that no further alterations were permissible. This he did yesterday and we await an answer. Evidence of the King's double dealing had been flowing in, as you observe, for ten days. Yesterday the extremist papers were worse than impossible. They contained news of the Najaf petitions, renewed the attacks which have been going on for some time against 'Ali Sulaimain of the Dulaim - our staunchest supporter - and declared that the leaders of the people repudiated the telegram sent by the Minister of Interior to Major Yetts, telling him that the King and his Govt reposed complete confidence in him. I telephoned to the Arab secretary of the Interior and learnt that the Ministry could do nothing against the worst of the papers because it was so strongly supported at the Palace. In the evening I happened to see Nuri Pasha and told him that I regarded the attitude of the King as so entirely indefensible that I could no longer have any relations with him. Nuri at once informed him and early this morning I had a message from the Palace asking me to go to tea with the King. I begged to be excused. Two hours later Mr Cornwallis telephoned to me that the King was in a great taking and entirely at a loss to know why I wouldn't come (sic) Mr C. advised me to go and have it out with him, and I went. He greeted me with enthusiasm which I at once damped by telling him that I had come against my better judgement. There succeeded a quarter of an hour of most acrimonious conversation at the end of which we were left facing one another with the assurance that I did not believe a word he said. I then observed that if I left him at that I should never come back again and that I thought we had better find a modus vivendi. He agreed and I detailed to him seriatim the evidence I had against him and his court. He did not attempt to defend the latter but admitted that he had worked and would work continuously against the acceptance of the principle of the mandate. I pointed out that in accepting the treaty he by implication accepted the mandate and that all he could do was to ask us to help him to get rid of it which we were prepared to undertake. I also called his attention to the fact that whereas his adherents said nothing about the acceptance of the treaty but were wholly occupied in rejecting the mandate, our adherents made the acceptance of the treaty their first plank. Which was his policy? I scored there and went on to tell him that he must clean up the palace and consent to a transfer of both Arab and British officials in the Hillah [Hillah, Al] Division, since both were conducting administration on purely party lines - he would be glad to get rid of the British officials but would cling to the Arab, which would be of course impossible. Finally after two hours discussion, he embraced me with great frequency and we parted on rather unsatisfactory terms of close sentimental union and political divergence! I must now get at Nuri and make him rub in all my accusations. The nett result is this: we may get the King to run straight during the elections and bring together a National Assembly which will {accept} ratify the treaty and without rejecting the mandate, put in a prayer that H.M.G. will support the 'Iraq Govt in asking for its abrogation. This we are quite prepared to do for the mandate is tosh, but we shall encounter bitter opposition from the French, and God knows, (while I don't care) what will happen to the Palestinian mandate. (Incidentally did you ever hear such outrageous nonsense as the grounds on which the opposition to the Rutenberg concession is based?) If we can't do that, Hell will be let loose in the 'Iraq, Faisal will lose his second throne, and where do you think he will find a third? At the moment I feel spiritually exhausted - like one who has fought with evil and doesn't know whether he has prevailed. There are however less exacting hours[?]. In the first place today the Ministry of Interior has decided to close the worst of the local papers and bring it to court, while the second worst has been closed down out of hand. In the second place Yasin al Hashimi has been appointed Mutasarrif of Muntafiq. He came to see me of his own impulse before he left and I described to him in detail what I had endured under the AT [Wilson] regime and ended by telling hm that I did not think I could have held out if I had not had the support of Major Yetts, Capt Clayton and . All the information that reaches us indicates that he has, since his arrival at Nasiriyah [Nasiriyah, An], been working in complete agreement with Major Yetts. Thirdly, all the Mutasarrifs have been in to receive instructions from the Ministry of Interior with regard to the elections, among them our stalwarts; Ahmad Pasha of Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] (you dined with him there) and Salih Bash'ayan of 'Amarah ['Amarah, Al]. I dined with Mr Cornwallis last week to meet them. Ja'far Pasha and Rashid al Khojah (Mutasarrif of Mosul [Mawsil, Al]) were also of the party. Rashid is a strong Nationalist but recognizes the necessity of British help. Ja'far Pasha ditto. The conversation between the four was most instructive and encouraging. Rashid says that if Baghdad runs straight, he will answer for Mosul. Now Baghdad depends on the attitude of the King. I had Ahmad Pasha and Salih to dinner last Monday, with the new Inspector General of Police (Isma'il Haqqi Saffar, an eminently moderate and reasonable man) and the Davidsons to meet them. It was a delightful evening; we were all of one mind. And on the previous day I had 'Abdul Muhsin Sa'dun (Minister of Justice) and his brother 'Abdul Karim to lunch. They are both of Basrah. 'Abdul Muhsin is politically by far the best man in the Cabinet and his brother shares his views. Mr Cooke came to meet them - it was an entirely delightful party. Both these Sa'duns have talked to the King like so many fathers. The evening before I had an after dinner party in my garden - Ja'far and Nuri with their wives, Sata' Beg (in the Education Dept) and his very emancipated Turkish wife, Bourdillons, and Capt Clayton. We played Bridge and talked. Ja'far was in great spirits. I asked him to describe his day. "At 4" he said "I clean my face; at 5 I clean my rifle, at 6 I go out to the parade ground to learn my drill." Two days ago I also was on the parade ground at 6 and photographed Ja'far and his squad (the Arab officers of their GHQ) laboriously learning their drill. Ja'far is the moving spirit of it - he does his bit for his country, no one can deny it. After cleaning his face and his rifle, he drills for two hours daily, and for the rest of the 12 hours works in his office as Minister of Defence. Two or three Arab female tea parties with Mrs Davidson and Mrs Drower - bless them! - you must fit into the fortnight. Once we went to tea with the ladies of Safwat Pasha's family. Safwat Pasha, to use Ja'far's favourite expression, is a donkey first class. He was the King's tutor and is now controller of his household. His wife is a very charming woman and his daughters are dears. But the best of the family is a tiny son, Ahmad, aged 6. He adores the King and sits by him watching his every movement and kissing his hand at intervals. After the tea party we and Ahmad went to the King's tennis - he plays twice a week with Capt Clayton and . It was very pleasant. Last night the Bourdillons gave a delightful picnic to which and I were asked, together with other persons of no importance. It was in a beautiful garden some 12 miles above Baghdad. We motored up, bathed and then dined under the palm trees, lying on thick grass. There was a nearly full moon and in that irrigated ground a heavy dew. I was cold for the first time since Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] - an indescribably pleasant sensation. We came back by launch and got in after midnight. has been hastily summoned home because his mother is dreadfully ill, probably dying. It is a real misfortune. He is universally Belloved and trusted by everyone from the King downwards. He has the real knack of getting on with them and knows exactly how to let them make mistakes and learn from them. I love him also. He is one of our Sunday swimming parties the others being Capt Clayton, Mr Cornwallis and the Davidsons. We shall miss him dreadfully. In conclusion I may mention that there is a gathering cloud in the north. The Turks are assembling troops in Van and have sent fresh officers and promised reinforcements at Rawanduz [Rawandiz]. An exceedingly lively propaganda is being conducted among the Kurdish tribes and our General Staff regards the situation as grave. Meantime in Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] we have not yet caught the murderers of Capt Bond and Capt Makant who are in close touch with the Turks at Rawanduz. The RAF has done wonders bombing insurgent villages in extremely difficult country, but it takes them all their time to keep a sufficient number of machines in the air and now if we are called upon to bomb Rawanduz intensively, our resources will be strained to the utmost. Our Kurdish policy needs revision, as you will see from the enclosed Memo (strictly confidential) which I have submitted to H.E. But we cannot hope for any permanent settlement till we have peace with the Kamalists - if ever. Will you please ask Belll Bros to settle the enclosed account with Messrs Woolston. Darling Belloved Father, I hope you don't mind my confiding to you my every act and thought. I find it very difficult to maintain impartiality and patience - I wish someone wiser than I am were filling the post that I occupy, but I don't believe that anyone could have staked their life and salvation on the fortunes of the 'Iraq more than I have. I am always your devoted daughter Gertrude

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