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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
Askari, Ja'far al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Wilson, J.M.
Cooke, R.S.
Clayton, Iltyd
Lawrence, T.E.
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Bowman, Humphrey
Bourdillon, Bernard Henry
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

July 16 Darling Father. I must begin by a really remarkable observation on the weather. They are repairing something to do with the electric current and in consequence it's off till 1 p.m. and no fans. Nevertheless on this mid July Sunday morning am I sitting, in a through draught it's true between door and windows, but quite cool, cool enough to write to you with comfort. The temp can't be over 100°. I don't think we've had it over 110° this year, and generally, as today, a jolly north wind. My office is unfortunately the worst spot in Baghdad; it's sheltered from every breeze and exposed to every ray of the sun. My house, on the other hand, is wonderfully cool.
Where did I leave off in my world history? Not long after a terrific scene with the King, wasn't it? It did some good. Sir Percy saw him two days later and had a very full explanation with him. He is still being as tiresome as ever about the treaty but at any rate he is being tiresome above board. He now sends straight to Sir Percy all the impossible resolutions which he wishes the Council to pass, so that the Ministers have full knowledge before the King's messages get to them that they have already been rejected by the High Commissioner. The Council then rejects them also and the King thinks of something else! Last week Sir Percy consented to send home positively the last amendment and a very academic one. The Secretary of State has refused to accept it - quite rightly I think - and the Council yesterday gulped the refusal down and have asked the King what he proposes to do. They'll have his answer tomorrow. Meantime H.M. prepared an inspired interview for the local press, in which all the significance of the treaty-cum-mandate was explained away and the questioner was assured that in no case would a noble Arab be asked to take an order from a foreigner. Sir Percy pointed out that a British irrigation engineer employed by the 'Iraq Govt would certainly give orders to noble Arabs which they would have to carry out. He observed also that if the article were published he would break off treaty negotiation. The Council were duly informed and duly expressed their disapproval of the article.

You see the position is this: the King and the Naqib have proclaimed to the listening universe that they will never, so help them God, accept the mandate. H.M.G. have replied that they can conclude no treaty except by reason of the right to do so given to them by the League of Nations - i.e. the Mandate. Therefore H.M. and H.E. are placed in the awkward position of either refusing the treaty or swallowing the mandate. In the first case H.M. also loses his throne, as he well knows and Mr C. observes genially that he will have difficulty in finding a third Kingdom. What Sir Percy has suggested is that they should say nothing about the mandate - it's not mentioned in the treaty in so many words - but in the resolution of Council, which is now being debated, should state that they recognize the treaty as the sole instrument between the British and 'Iraq Govts. If they like to go on to say that they hope at an early date we will help them to persuade the L. of N. to do away with the mandatory system, they may, but the Naqib doesn't fancy the idea as it explicitly admits the existence of the mandate at present - old ostrich. The King is always trying to turn the resolution round so that it will imply a {resolution} rejection of the mandate, but the High Commissioner, wary bird, is not to be caught out. So the game goes on.

But if it's a game here, it is getting serious on the Euphrates. There the Arab officials are conducting administration on the purest party lines - anti mandate. The great shaikhs are nearly all pro-mandate and they are reaching such a point of exasperation at the pinpricks, injustices and rudeness with which they meet at the hand of the Arab administrative officers that their patience is almost worn through. An outbreak is far from impossible. Already there have been two murders, both committed by anti mandate shaikhs solely and only for political reasons. In both cases the great shaikh of the Khaza'il, Salman al Dhahir, is the man whose honour is touched. He definitely stated that if the Mutasarrif would not see justice done on tribal lines he would take the law into his own hands. Mr Cornwallis has just managed to get enough done to keep him quiet - only just.

Naturally this being the attitude of the Arab officials there, the British officials are thrown into active participation with the other side and the whole Division from top to bottom is definitely divided into two camps. The local Advisor, Major Dickson, is neither very tactful nor very honest, which doesn't help matters. The solution is to scrap the lot and put in moderate men, Arab and English. The King declares this can't be done till after the treaty is signed and published, which will give him a definite platform to step out onto, the treaty is as near being published as I've above related to you - there remains therefore the unanswered question: will the Euphrates flare up?

Isn't it an intolerable position?

I think I've said before, but anyway I'll say right here, that I'm convinced that no country in the world can work a mandate. The French, first and foremost and we, a good second, have blackened the name of mandates in Syria and Palestine. Even without these examples, perhaps the mandatory scheme was impossible. The Arabs won't submit to any diminution of their sovereign rights such as being placed in tutelage under the L. of N. They are ready to excercise [sic] those rights in such manner as to bind themselves by treaty to accept advice in return for help, but that's another matter. I know the working of Faisal's mind intimately - not his only. (1) he wants to reject the mandate here as a step towards its rejection in Syria. (2) he is bent on showing the Moslem world that an Arab Moslem sovereign state has come into being. (3) he intends to get back the Khalifate into Arab hands. It's a programme which would suit us perfectly - a friendly Arab state or group of states lying conveniently on the western border of Asia, forming a link between our sea ways and the interior of the continent, holding the rest of Islam - if they can manage it, that's their business - by the authority of the Khalifate; could anything better be imagined? But it leaves the French nowhere and the Zionists in the same place.

Well now I'll go back to my chronicle of events. On the 6th I had an evening party in my garden - I have one once a week, about 10 natives, soldiers, notables of the town, employees in Govt offices, all mixed up; and 7 or 8 of my colleagues. Two or three of the young men in my office always come, Capt Clayton, Mr Cooke etc. The refreshments are coffee, ices and cold drinks. Sometimes there's a game of Bridge - that's when Ja'far, Nuri or Naji Suwaidi come, for they are the only native bridge players. But Bridge or no Bridge the parties go with indescribable spirit. They last from 9 till 12.

On Sunday 8th I had Nuri and Capt Clayton to lunch and a really good talk; and in the evening went out swimming and picnicking with Mr Cornwallis and the Davidsons. We do that every Sunday, on a heavenly beach backed by fruit gardens just Bellow Mu'adhdham [Azamiyah, Al]. The statutory party includes Capt Clayton and (who has alas! left) and often we add some Colonel or RAF man who is a friend of us all. We get back about 9.30. One of us takes cold foods and the other drinks and ice, à tour de rôle.

On other afternoons I'm always either calling on people (often Mrs Davidson and Mrs Drower come too - Arab people, I mean) or having ministers and other big wigs to tea. Little wigs, too. For instance on the 7th a young ass called 'Ata Amin who is one of the secretaries in the King's diwan invited himself. His view on the political situation was that you must always follow those who had influence in the country, i.e. the extremists. (He has never been out of Baghdad and knows about as much of the country as a gentleman in a London club.) I said that without stopping to question whether the extremists really were those who had most influence, didn't he think that before following someone it was well to inquire whether he was going in the direction you considered advisable. The extremists' object was to reject the treaty - was that his? He admitted it wasn't but at the close of the conversation enunciated the same doctrine again. So I hadn't made much headway!

We had a great function later in the afternoon - the opening of an Anglo-Arab club. Sir Percy was there and was perfectly delighful to everyone - black, white and speckled, for they were all present. It's a man's club but I was asked to the party though I'm not a member. And our darling Euphrates shaikhs were there, half a dozen of them, all up here to see the treaty put through if they can. (It remains to be seen whether the club will be a success - it is designed to be a common meeting ground.)

On Monday 9th I had Rustam Haidar, the Head of the Royal Diwan to tea and a lecture. He took the latter - and indeed the former also - very well and I liked him for it. We ended by being better friends, but he will wobble back into the old errors. Then, I suppose, I shall have him to tea again.

I'm getting to be very good at lectures, I may frankly say. Especially in suiting them to the audience. On Wed. morning another young ass, Rauf Kubaisi, who nearly brought the Nasiriyah [Nasiriyah, An] Liwah about our ears the other day when the King had the bright idea of appointing him Mutasarrif there, came to see me in my office. As Col. Repington would say, I gave him my views. He went straight to the King and asked if he might apply for a passport for Egypt because the Khatun seemed to be so angry. The King, highly entertained, informed me of this the same night, when I dined with him en famille, i.e. with his old tutor, Safwat Pasha, a Damascene, and Safwat's adorable little son, Ahmad, aged 7. After a merry dinner during which we reviewed the Kurdish question in all its bearing - I thought the King's ideas very good - he and Safwat Pasha and I sat on the balcony over the river and talked of everything in this universe. And unexpectedly I found a staunch ally in Safwat, God save him. He is not only a man of moderate views but he can also grasp a line of argument. Not many people here - and the King is not among their number - can refrain from keeping two or three wholly contrary principles in their mind at one and the same time. Safwat can. He is going to be a great help. One way and another it was a most delicious evening. The King was as engaging as only he can be and Safwat was so favourably impressed by our relations that he came to tea yesterday to beg me to drop in to the Palace as often as I conveniently could, as it was quite clear that I was the only person here who really loved the King or whom the King really loved. That does scant justice to Mr Cornwallis who has given up his whole career for him, as I pointed out, but Safwat held to it that I was different and perhaps the King does hold my hand more though he embraces Mr Cornwallis oftener - we compare notes.

Oh darling, all this sounds so babyish but do you know it isn't quite. You can only do anything with Faisal if he feels certain that he has your devoted affection. He has ours and it's good for us and for him and for everybody that he should recognize it.

As for his Kurdish views, they have been turned down, temporarily at least. I enclose the report of the conversation which I put up to Sir Percy. Major Bourdillon flew to Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] and discussed the whole matter with the P.O., Major Goldsmith. The latter says he thinks nothing can be done from Baghdad and something must be done at once. So they are entering into communication with a wild but forcible brigand, Saiyid Taha, over the frontier, to see if he will take on the job of governor of Sulaimani and Rawanduz [Rawandiz] under our guidance. It's a terrific leap in the dark. I think it not improbable that Saiyid Taha will refuse in which case I shall chip in again with the King's idea - for I've got a rooted conviction that however much we may know, we can never know how much they can do to persuade one other [sic] once you give them a free hand. And as the King says: "You see I'm not so very different from a Kurdish Agha!" Well, we're very different from Kurdish Aghas and I face the fact - not without a partial satisfaction.

The {Kurdish} Turkish threat at Rawandaz - reinforcements there combined with a concentration at Van - is most disturbing. We bombed Rdz last Monday with 20 planes - the biggest thing that has yet been done - and repeated the process with 10 planes on Tuesday. Gradually we shall learn the full damage done but it must at least have been a deterrent process and we hope the idiotic Kurdish tribes on the frontier will be discouraged from throwing in their lot with the 300 or so of Turks who form the garrison - or formed the garrison, we'll hope there are fewer now - of Rdz. I felt most acutely anxious. In that mountain country there is no possible landing ground and if anything goes wrong with a plane it's certain death. It was almost beyond Bellief that we had no casualties. Col. MacNeece, who was my companion in the Palestine flights and came to tea with the Bowmans, was in command and told me afterwards all about it. It was a magnificent performance both in organization and in valour.

I had another comic dinner party last week with Col. Ahmad Haqqi, head of the Military School. The party consisted of me, and 3 Arab officers, one a General, A.D.C. to 'Abdullah (but we didn't see him there) who has just come over on leave. The French wouldn't allow him to come overland, turned him back from Aleppo [Halab] and shipped him out of the country at Beyrut [Beyrouth (Beirut)] - an act of petty spite which does them no credit. I should write him down as a ruffian, however - Hamid Pasha al Wadi. We all conversed to the tunes of a gramaphone [sic] for two hours. Fortunately the dinner was in a garden, full of white and pink oleanders, so the gramaphone wasn't so deafening as it might have been.

On Friday I took the Safwat ladies to tea with the French sisters at the hospital and bringing them back met the King and Safwat walking along the river bank in front of the Palace. So I joined them and talked of - the treaty!

I dined with the C. in C., a very dull party, but as I sat next him I talked to him all the time which I'm always quite pleased to do. We played Bridge afterwards.

And last night the event of the week happened. I had an extra evening party in honour of the Euphrates shaikhs and 'Ali Sulaiman of the Dulaim. You understand, it was rather a compromising party because they all are so bitterly pro-British. I asked to meet them Saiyid Mahmud, the Naqib's eldest son, Fakhri Jamil, and 'Abdul Majid Shawi. Saiyid Mahmud had "a headache"; Fakhri Jamil "a broken motor wheel"; Majid Beg came!

These little episodes are so instructive. Saiyid Husain Afnan came too, and Mr Cornwallis, the Davidsons, Capt Clayton, and and and - we were a party of 21. Nine of the biggest tribal leaders in the country I had; most of them had never been in Baghdad till we came because they didn't trust the Turks. There they sat and smoked and eat ices, just as if they had done it all their lives. And talked! I felt so proud and happy at having them all together. Some didn't know one another by sight, although they are fighting the same battle. You can scarcely form an idea of how completely they have all kept themselves to themselves. The country wasn't safe to travel in, there were no roads, and then the Turks smelt a plot whenever two or three gathered together.

'Ali is here because I brought him in. There had been a perfectly outrageous attack on him in the extremest papers. He Bellieved that it had been put up by the King, which wasn't at all true though the King had been most unwise in allowing 'Ali's attacker, a petty tribal man of no standing, to have audience with him. Now the King is very fond of 'Ali and leans on him, and 'Ali who is the most remarkable personality among the tribes, is also very fond of the King. When I heard that he was feeling sore and bitter I wrote to him telling him to come and see me and sent my letter to Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar] by motor. He turned up next morning in my office, beaming through cakes of dust and deposited on the floor four brace of sand grouse which, regardless of game laws, he had shot on the way. I told him the tale of the attack - the paper is being prosecuted and has been closed down - and sent him off to the King. He is now staying on in Baghdad till - oh, well, till the treaty is signed you know. I think he may be helpful.

Oh, but we're up against such problems - the formation of political parties is the first. The extremists are already in the field and I'm pushing and dragging the others into the open. Our material is so damn as Ja'far says. Majid Beg is the only man who is any good. Yet they all know that if they get a Constituent Assembly which rejects the treaty, their future is a minus quantity. Then we're busily discussing candidates. Some very good ones are coming forward, even for Baghdad. Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] and the south are all right, of course. They want us pushing or dragging. Of course you never will let fall {of} a word about the kind of things I'm busy with. But someone must do them. Mr Cornwallis lends a most effective hand.

Here's an engaging picture of the General Staff of the 'Iraq army having their new drill. Ja'far Pasha appears saliently on the extreme left.

July 17. [17 July 1922] I hadn't time to include yesterday's experiences which were, as usual, remarkable! Feeling very energetic for once, I got up at 5 and rode out to Karradah to breakfast with Haji Naji on sumptuous roasted fish. While I was sitting in his summer house a curious episode occurred. There strode in a youngish man in the dress of a darwish who announced that he had come as a guest. Haji Naji replied that he was busy and bade him be gone. The man blustered a little, looked sharply at me and said he had just as much right to be a guest as others and finally went out and sat down just outside the mat-walled summer house. Haji Naji called the servants and one of his sons and told them to send the man away - he was, by the way, from his accent, a Persian. They failed to make him move. Presently he began to read out the Quran in a loud voice. This was more than I could bear and I went out and told him, by God, to clear out. He said "I am reading the Holy Book." I replied "I know you are - get out or I shall send for the police." He replied irrevelantly [sic] "I rely on God." I said "God's a long way off, and the police very near" and with that I picked up his iron staff and gently poked him up. He made up his mind that he was beaten and saying "Because you are here I shall go" picked up himself and his Quran and made off. When I went back to the summer house Haji Naji observed "I expect he was sent by one of those dogs sons of dogs to worry me." But if I hadn't sent the man away he would have been absolutely helpless. A man who sits down on your threshold to read the Quran can only be regarded, in theory, as a blessing and you can't shift him. Curious, wasn't it? I shall tell the police to keep an eye on any darwish wandering about in Karradah.
Capt Clayton came to lunch bringing with him an American correspondent of a Chicago paper. Mr Cornwallis came too. The correspondent, namens Wood, is, we take it, a Naftophil - ie out to inquire into oil concessions. He had come from Syria and though he wasn't very outgoing, we gathered that he thought the French position hopeless. In Palestine he had been at pains to inquire into the economic basis of Zionism and had come to the conclusion, as you and I did, that it was entirely unsound. The Jew colonists cannot make more that a bare subsistance, if that; and always on the suppostion that some pious benefactor will be ready to fork out ú700 per person to start them in life. He had seen many of the Nationalists in Syria; surreptiously [sic], for after the Crane episode they hadn't wanted to compromise themselves; and he had heard from them a great deal about me. Nevertheless it gave him to think when I told him that on no account whatever would the French authorities have consented to my visiting Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)]. He told us that the French were regularly supplying the Kamalists with arms and gave us circumstantial details which we can confirm from many sources. Beasts, are not they? They intend that these arms shall be used against 'Iraq. Finally he asked me what I thought about the future - I must tell you we had pretty clearly explained to him what we were doing here in the way of setting up an independent Arab State. I said I thought what the Arabs thought, outlined the programme given me by the Mufti of Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] and added that mandates couldn't be worked. The USA, I continued, were one of the factors which prevented us from divesting ourselves of the mandate because they would accuse us, if we did so, of getting rid of all control so that we might bottle up the 'Iraq for ourselves. I trust he went away a wiser man - one never knows - at least he promised to send me his articles so he can't, I think, intend to write anything blatantly false.

Just as I was going to sleep before starting on our swimming party, I had a telephone message from the Palace to say H.M. wanted to see me at 5.30. So I arranged to give up swimming and join the others at the subsequent picnic. I found one of the Ministers and Safwat Pasha with H.M. and we all had tea together and a merry talk after which I asked H.M. what mischief he had been up to since I last saw him. He said "Come with me" and we abruptly left the party and went upstairs where he told me about his article for the papers. He was bitterly disappointed, he said; for once he thought he had done something really helpful and H.E. had turned it down. I hadn't actually read the article so I asked him to relate to me what was in it, and upon my soul it seemed to me very good and useful - a very proper exposition of the relations of the treaty to the mandate. However I reserved judgement until I had actually seen it - it's difficult to be quite impartial with someone who enforces his arguments by kissing your hand frequently! - and he promised to send it to me next day, I undertaking to intervene with H.E. Having been so obliging about the article, I took occasion to tell him in detail all that was happening on the Euphrates, begging him to remove all the administrative officials there at once; and I went on to tell him how the extremists were pestering the Interior for permission to form a party which would certainly do everything possible to reject the treaty. The King thereupon put on his sternest expression, drew himself up to his full height - like the Caterpillar in Alice, you remember it's full height was exactly 3 inches - and asked me whether I thought he would permit the party to be formed? I said "Oh well, if you're prepared to be so tyrannical -" and with much affection we parted.

Oh dear, there are funny moments, aren't there?

I got into my launch and went up river in the last glow of a wonderful sunset to where Mr Cornwallis, Capt Clayton, Col. MacNeece and the Davidsons were just beginning dinner at the edge of the fig gardens. And we lay there in the dark till past 10 o'clock talking about it all, while the stars came out one by one. But don't fancy for a moment that we thought of them as constituents of an infinite firmament; for us they were merely adornments of the skies of 'Iraq.

Well, this morning I smoothed down H.E. who was already beginning to think he had shown less than his usual patience. Mr Cornwallis came over with a revised version of the article, they agreed to a few verbal alterations and I hope it will go through.

10 p.m. I've just heard by telephone from Saiyid Husain Afnan, Secretary to the Council, that the ministers passed the treaty at this afternoon's meeting. It may be that tomorrow we may get H.M.'s consent and end it, but - ne dis pas "Fontaine, je ne boirai pas de ton eau!"

July 20. [20 July 1922] We're having a heat wave - I think that the temp must have been up to 120° today. One knows at once when the thermometer runs up by the intolerable hotness of everything one touches. I spent Tuesday evening in an appropriate manner. Mr Cooke, Major Wilson (architect and a delightful creature, a pupil of Lutyens) and I accepted the invitation of Sabih Beg, Minister of P.W.D. to bathe from his house in Mu'adhdham [Azamiyah, Al]. It was an ideal place. A delightful house with two courtyards full of flowering oleanders; you undress like a lady in Sabih Beg's bedroom, climb down the wall of his house by a ladder and so by a steep sandy bank straight into deep water - so swiftly deep that you can dive in off the bank. You swim lazily down in the soft warm water under the high fortress-like walls of Mu'adhdham river front, after which, if you're me, you come to shore and run up the bank to your starting point, but if you're Mr Cooke you swim gallantly up against the current. That over, we drank many glasses of grape juice with Sabih Beg and so motored home. Wed. 19th was a very strenuous day. After a long morning in the office, relieved by an hour's sleep after lunch, I went to the prize giving at the Girls' school. The courtyard was packed and the heat beyond Bellief. We sat for an hour watching the children perform, rather nicely; Lady Cox gave the prizes, I made a short extempore speech in Arabic congratulating everyone and we left them to complete a programme which must have lasted another hour. In the evening I had a dinner party of 'ulama, the Qadhi of Baghdad, Saiyid Muhi al Din (the Naqib's second son) Shukri Alusi who is one of the most famous 'alims of Baghdad, a Wahhabi (I adore him but he is without table manners and eats with his fingers) Mr Cooke and Majid Shawi to represent the unlearned world. They were all perfectly delightful and all except Majid Beg white robed and turbanned [sic], and the conversation delightfully non-political. I'm proud of the friendship of Kings and Ministers, but when the 'Ulama come to dine with me I'm neither to hold nor to bind.
Today the King ordered me to tea and we had two hours most excellent talk. First of all I got his assistance for my Law of Excavations which I've compiled with the utmost care in consultation with the legal authorities. He has undertaken to push it through Council - he's perfectly sound about archaeology - having been trained by T.E. Lawrence - and has agreed to my suggestion that he should appoint me, if Sir Percy consents, provisional Director of Archaeology to his Govt, in addition to my other duties. I should then be able to run the whole thing in direct agreement with him, which would be excellent. We had another long discussion on Kurdish affairs - not a discussion because I'm entirely on his side and against what is being done now - I must write another memo for Sir Percy before I go to bed. Altogether he was at his best, wise and statesmanlike. He has had the most delightful letter from Ibn Sa'ud, in answer to an equally delightful letter from himself - the initiation was his, all honour to him. He is now going to publish both letters which will clear away a great amount of misapprehension, and he told me at length what he intended to reply to Ibn Sa'ud, quite excellent. I feel so overjoyed when he does things like this - wisdom is justified in her children - i.e. me! He is the most enchanting person, of that there's no doubt. I do long for Mother to make his acquaintance - she would fall a helpless victim to him.

Safwat Pasha's old mother, aged 80 odd, died this morning of a stroke. The King wasn't very sympathetic about it - he was bored because Safwat Pasha does nothing but weep. I, on the other hand, left a heartfelt letter of sympathy for the poor Pasha. She was a dear old Damascene, the mother.

I have received your letter of June 26 and 28 and Mother's of June 28 - bless you both. I'm much interested in your intercourse (a) with Eugenie (b) with the Slaters. By the way, please give my love to Col. Bary[?]. I read two perfectly mad articles of Lord Northcliffe's in the Times, after which they abruptly stopped, so I suppose he is in a lunatic asylum. I think you were perfectly right not to sign the Near East Association letter. While I'm in general agreement with it, I do regard documents of this kind with the gravest suspicion. All the silly asses sign and all the wise men like you don't sign. The Levy officer who was on the Moreq[?] was Major Boyle. I know him well. A good officer in many ways but without the faintest understanding of the Arab question. I remember once in 1920 when Capt Clayton and I had used our utmost eloquence before him he ended by remarking "Well, please God, Mesopotamia will soon be a British Colony."

Darling, good night. I'm your very loving daughter Gertrude.

IIIF Manifest