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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
Cox, Percy
Wilson, J.M.
Woolley, Leonard
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Askari, Ja'far al-
Haldane, Aylmer
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Nov 1 Baghdad Darling Father. I'm beginning this letter very early and shall close it early because the day after tomorrow I'm going to Mosul [Mawsil, Al] for a few days. It's this way: there has long been a promise that I should personally conduct Major J.M. Wilson to Hatra [Hadr, Al]. Round this kernel have solidified Capt. Clayton and (just back from leave and posted to Mosul, to the regret of Capt Clayton and me) and we all set out on Friday night. We sleep a night at Sharqat with the Arab army as hosts, motor next day to Hatra where we spend the night à la grace de Dieu (we have camp beds with us and the Shammar of 'Ajil al Yawar are in that neighbourhood and will, we hope, provide us with a sheep roasted whole and coffee) and then motor back to Qaiyarah [Qayyarah] where if we arrive late we may spend another night. After which Major Wilson, and I go on to Mosul. I don't suppose I shall stay long - it will depend on what there's opportunity to do, I should like to go up to Zakho on the frontier - but it will be long enough to miss the next mail. So I shall leave this letter to be posted.
I've been figuring in my capacity as Director of Archaeology. Mr Woolley arrived on Sunday - I knew him first when he was digging at Carchemish [Barak (Karkemis)], and next as Intelligence Officer at Port Sa'id [Port Said] in 1915. He's a tiresome little man but a first class digger and an archaeologist after my own heart - ie he entirely backs me up in the way I'm conducting the Department. He has come out as head of a joint expedition organized by the British Museum and Pennsylvania University and they are going to dig Ur, no less, and are prepared to put in two years' work. He came to see me on Sunday afternoon to discuss arrangements and next day I sent him round to my minister, Sabih Beg, and made an appointment for him with the King. He also lunched with me to meet the Minister and Major Marshall, Divisional Adviser, Kirkuk, a very nice creature who returned from leave a few days ago. (Incidentally he has suddenly developed a horrible goitre and has to stay in Baghdad to have it cured.) After lunch Sabih Beg and I went to a meeting of the Cabinet which I attended for the first time to explain and defend the Law of Excavations which I had drafted. The Naqib and the Ministers mad me affectionately welcome, but it's a comic performance, a Cabinet meeting in 'Iraq. The Naqib reclines on a corner of his sofa; Saiyid Husain, the Secretary, sits in the middle of the room at a little table, and the five ministers dispose themselves on the chairs and sofas round the room. It's very peaceful and quiet with the sunshine falling through windows opening onto the Tigris and illuminating the spotless cleanliness of the room. Proceedings opened by Saiyid Husain's reading out the minutes of the last meeting which were corrected and approved. Then came the reading of a very important letter addressed by the Naqib to Ministers, urging the necessity of claiming for the 'Iraq state the wilayets of Mosul, Baghdad and Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] in their entirety - intended as a protest against any possible intention of handing back Mosul to the Kamalists. It was a dignified performance - the old thing had conceived the idea of it all for himself - and will greatly strengthen our hands at the Peace Conference. At the end he pronounced that it was a weighty document - as if some one else had drawn it up and the Ministers all agreed and decided to consider it at a special meeting next day. Upon which we passed to my law through which we laboured, clause by clause, for two hours. I got it passed in principle but certain verbal alterations are still to be made in the Arabic text. When we had done I bowed myself out and went to a committee meeting of the Salam Library where it was my agreeable duty to present to them some £40 worth of books, the response to my appeal to Sir Frederick Macmillan. Isn't it generous of him! George Blackwood had also sent us Sir Aylmer Haldane's book. I'm most grateful to Mother for all the trouble she has taken in this matter and confidently expect that the Salam Library will soon be one of the best institutions in the East.

I've also been busy with other things. On Saturday afternoon I received an order from the Palace to come up and dine that night with Mr Cornwallis. After dinner we two and H.M. had a long talk, I being the Opposition. The thing is this: the King is bitterly jealous of the Naqib and of the moderate party which has been formed under his auspices and he wants by hook or by crook to get the Naqib out and discredit the party - I believe I'm giving the bare truth. He takes as an excuse the undoubted fact that the moderates have been very lethargic and declares himself indignant at their inactivity in backing the treaty and explaining it to the country. As an alternative he wants to get another party going composed of the extremists whom he thinks he dominates (in reality they dominate him) and in talking to me he paints the project in rosy hues and says it is his intention to draw into the new organization all the more active moderates if only I will help in persuading them to be drawn. Now I know perfectly well that if the King's Party (for before it has come into existence is is already known by this name) is started by a group of Young Arabs whom the country distrusts profoundly and rightly, not a single man of the 'Ali Sulaiman type will join it, and I won't ask them to do so. Thus at a moment when above all other things you want united support of the treaty, you will have the people divided into a King's Party and a Naqib's Party, the most fatal occurrence. The extremists, in order to down the moderates, are ready momentarily to be more loudly pro-British and pro-treaty than they, but it would be purely fictitious and if they got into power they couldn't run the country which refused to be run by a parcel of young ex-officers who have spent all their official life in Turkey and know nothing of the 'Iraq. The only sound plan is to get the moderate left to join the active right and make common cause with them but this doesn't suit H.M.'s book because he regards the right as the Naqib's men, not his. I was therefore extremely cold about the project and was afterwards rebuked by Mr Cornwallis for having damped the King's ardour to get a strong pro-treaty propaganda going, but I continue to think I'm right and I won't be committed or commit others till I see a great deal further into H.M.'s mind that I do at present. At the end he told Mr C. that he thought the idea had better be dropped for the moment. The truth is that he can't do much, if I may say so, if he has me against him because I have a pretty strong hold on the moderates and they won't take any new line without {taking} my advice. It remains to be seen whether I can stir them to greater activity. I've had another heart to heart talk with Taufiq Beg (Minister of Justice) who is one of the most capable men among them - the King hates him and he knows it - I think I've got him to see the need for action. Saiyid Mahmud, the President, has fortunately dropped into the background - he's hopeless. They've appointed Fakhri Jamil secretary and he has got an exceedingly capable Christian, Yusuf Ghanimah, to help him. Yusuf is a member of my Library Committee, and a great friend.

Mr Cornwallis, Capt Clayton and I dined with Mr Davidson on Sunday and discussed all these things at great length. Mr C. agreed that unless the King could form a coalition party his idea had better be abandoned.

I had had the Minister of Interior, Muhsin Beg Sa'dun, to lunch. He is one of the people I like best here though I don't know him very well. A strong supporter of the King, he has not joined the moderate party, but he is essentially a level headed man and a fearless - he hasn't the slightest hesitation in telling the King when he disagrees with him, which is often. He is tremendously impressed by the failure of the moderates to achieve anything during the last two months and rather favours the idea of forming an opposition party to go one better. But I doubt if he would take a seat in the galäre which the King, if left to himself, will construct.

It's all extremely interesting but no less difficult. Heaven endow one with eyes that see clear!

The King also has produced a very good letter on the Turkish question addressed to the High Commissioner - he read it to Mr C. and me the night we were dining with him. Oh and we've got permission to send a delegate to the peace conference - isn't that splendid! I expect Ja'far will go.

Shaikh Mahmud's comic opera continues its run in Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] but there are signs that it may shortly be withdrawn. He has recently appointed a Cabinet of nine with a Commander in Chief and an Inspector General of Kurdistan. I note that the Ministry of Justice is not filled - absit omen! They have exhausted the 4´ lakhs which we left in the treasury and no one dreams of doing anything so awkward as collecting taxes.

Meantime Simko and his henchman, Saiyid Taha, who have recently been putting up a tremendous fight against Persia in the name of Kurdish nationalism (coupled with the name of Simko!) and have been beaten by the Persians and reduced to flight, have fled to us and appeared at Arbil [(Hawler)]! At least Simko, being an international complication, has been told not to come into Arbil for the present and remains discreetly a few miles away. But the Kurds are all pricking up their ears at the news of their arrival and preparing to sharpen their knives for use against the Turks on our borders - encroachers, you understand, on the liberties of an independent Kurdistan! I don't fancy that Simko will regard Shaikh Mahmud's pretensions with favour and if we let things take their course a sharpened knife or two might find their way in his direction. I regard this contingency with perfect equanimity.

A deputation is coming down from Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] to discuss the Kurdish question with H.E. and H.M. It has missed its train, as it naturally would, but it may possibly arrive tomorrow. If it weren't for the Turks the Kurdish question would be nothing but a huge joke and we've pretty well bombed the Turks out of existence. But they are concentrating to the north, though I think it's too late in the year for a serious move through the mountains. We're so accustomed now to this sort of thing that we take it as our daily bread.

Nov 2. [2 November 1922] The deputation has come, 14 in all, including their followers, and all armed to the teeth. They've put up at one of the smaller hotels, from which they promptly ejected all other occupants. The landlord wilted and vanished into the cellar. Yet according to Major Noel their views are quite reasonable - not that he is a great judge of reasonableness, bless him; they are explaining them to Sir Percy this evening.
Last mail brought me Mother's letter of Oct 17, very interesting about the Leeds Festival and Princess Mary and all. And yours of the 18th. I am indeed glad that Sir A. Doman is better and sorry about Mr Constantine. What a pity you couldn't go to Frankfurt! I was longing for your account of it. Poor old Edward Whitwell's disappearance will perhaps be to the good when you have found a satisfactory successor. I'm delighted to hear about Parky - he is a true friend and they are not after all so common though we seem to have more than our fair share, don't we. Yes, of course go and see Abdullah, if you've time. Tell Mother Jack Philby is not an enemy. In spite of his ability he suffers from an incurable confidence in his own opinions which leads him so wildly astray at times that he is not then difficult to tackle. Personally I like him very much.

I shall love to hear how Uncle Lyulph got on at Perth and Frankfurt. He is a wonderful person, isn't he. I'm so glad he was amused by my letters.

Goodbye dearest - I'm off tomorrow night and I wish you were coming too. Tonight Mr Cornwallis dines to discuss parties - need I say! He is gong off with Sir Percy to Bahrain to meet Ibn Sa'ud and I expect they will certainly be gone before I come back. I don't like not having them even for a fortnight or 3 weeks at this juncture. The King invited me to dine tonight but I made an excuse; I had so many odds and ends of things to finish. I'll go up and say goodbye to him tomorrow. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

Your letters are often understamped!

IIIF Manifest