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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
Cox, Percy
Wilson, A.T.
Cooke, R.S.
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Allenby, Edmund
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Joyce, P.C.
Haldane, Aylmer
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Jan 30 Darling Father. Owing to bad weather the air mail was a week late and I only received your letter of Jan 8 and Mother's of Jan 11 today. Still that's comparatively good. First of all I want to say that I think your decision as regards retrenchment is excellent. It would have been a horrible bore for you to have moved out of Rounton and if you can effect the desired end without doing so it will be infinitely more convenient. Of course I don't mind my rooms at R'ton being shut up. Anyway it will affect me very little for I don't want to be away from here long and should like to get back by the end of September at least, if not earlier. When I leave will depend on whether you come out to Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)]. My post here, by the bye, is Oriental Secretary to the High Commissioner. Quite between ourselves I may tell you that Mr Cornwallis said he would be delighted to put me at head of the Intelligence Section of the Ministry of Interior, which indeed I should have created. But I replied that I couldn't possibly leave Sir Percy and that I thought anyway I was more useful as a liasion officer between the Interior and the High Commissioner's office, since if I left him he would be very much out of touch with Arab opinion. The High Commissioner's staff is a charge on the British Govt - I'm not an official of the Arab Govt though it would have given me great pleasure to enter its service. Still, as I say, I think I'm helping them more where I am. I didn't tell Sir Percy of Mr C.'s offer. I think he counts on having me always by his side and for my part I am honoured in serving him. Thank you very much for sending me the letter from the Times Correspondent in C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)] (Philip Graves) It contains some good points in vindication of the Arab Bureau, in which, incidentally, I served till 1919 - I was Arab Bureau officer here from July 1916 till Feb. 1919 when I went on leave. I'm pleased to hear that you were interested in my Kurdish letter, but it wasn't a patch on your letter about income tax and economy which is a masterpiece of clear exposition. During the last fortnight I've taken my health seriously in hand. I really was dreadfully run down and nearly expired of fatigue at the end of a morning in the office. So I've firmly come away at 1 p.m. or thereabouts, lunched at home or with Mr Cornwallis, the Joyces or anyone else I wanted to see, and then gone out riding till tea time. The weather has been delicious and this programme has been just what I wanted for it has got me out every afternoon into the sun and air. Never in my experience of the Iraq has there been such a spring. The abundant rains have turned even the barren wilderness outside Baghdad into a pasture. It's all green with thick deep grass along the hollows by the irrigation canals. Today I rode through the Dairy Farm - you remember we motored through it on the way to Ba'qubah - and back by the gardens {on the} bordering the Tigris. Man and beast were rejoicing in the abundance of grass - "By God I've never seen the like" I stopped to say to the shepherds. And they "It is the mercy of God and your presence, Khatun." How I love their darling phrases! you know Father, it's a shocking affair how the East has wound itself round my heart till I don't know which is me and which is it. I never lose the sense of it. I'm acutely conscious always of its charm and grace which do not seem to wear thin with familiarity. I'm more a citizen of Baghdad than many a Baghdadi born, and I'll wager that no Baghdadi cares more, or half so much, for the beauty of the river or the palm gardens, or clings more closely to the rights of citizenship which I have acquired. The King is well again - I told you he had an attack of appendicitis? I spent a good deal of time holding his hand - metaphorically. For during the week he was confined to the house he sent for me twice to come and gossip with him. The first time I found him lying on a sofa - his staff had been rather shocked at his receiving me so informally, "But I told them "he said "that you were min ahl al bait - one of the household - and if I wanted to see you I should send for you." The second time he was sitting in the sun on his balcony, over the river. After I had been with him a bit Nuri Said, who has just been appointed Director of Public Security, was announced. I said I would go away as Faisal would want to talk to him in private, but he wouldn't let me go. So I sat there and assisted at the most confidential talk as to how to catch Turkish emissaries and thwart the people who received them, to which I occasionally contributed, for naturally I know a good deal about what is going on in the town (that's my business) and very often warn the C.I.D. (which is the Police Intelligence Dept) of these coming and goings. But isn't it strange to be part of Arab secret intelligence and to be accepted as one of themselves by the King and his head police officer! Nuri is doing very well and all the frondeurs are shivering in their shoes. Jan. 31. [31 January 1922] I spent last weekend in acute discomfort on account of Zaya's having so completely made it up with my cook as to marry his daughter. I really think it's less inconvenient when they beat one another over the head than when they enter into matrimonial alliances, for Zaya being a bridegroom and the cook having to cook the wedding breakfast there was no one left to cook or wait. I billeted myself out for lunch on Mr Cornwallis and Sir Aylmer during the two days when the festivities were at their worst. As Mizhir and Marie also attended them, there was absolutely no one left of my household. I put in an appearance on the second afternoon. Mr Cooke (Advisor to Auqaf) had been helping me to buy a few odds and ends of furniture for my new room (you remember the second-hand bazaar where we bought my tables? you can always get nice old furniture there very cheap) and he supported me at the wedding afterwards. They are terrible functions, these Christian weddings. The families keep open house for two or three days and spend mints of money on drinks, cakes and bands - most excruciating instruments - and everyone they've ever known is invited. Mr Cooke and I beat a dignified retreat after a few minutes and I brought him home for a talk in which we were presently joined by the newly appointed Governor of Baghdad, Taufiq al Khalidi. He is a particularly reasonable and capable man, was a deputy in Turkish times and spent most of the war in Holland. He speaks both French and German, the latter very well. His position is that of a sort of glorified Lord Mayor and I think he'll do very well. The King is delighted with him and it's no drawback that he keeps closely in touch with me and other British officers. We have now got elective municipal bodies throughout the 'Iraq. On the whole the results of the elections have been very satisfactory. At Kadhimain [(Al Khazimiyah], Saiyid Ja'far, with whom you went to tea, has been returned at the top of the poll in spite of desperate attempts on the part of the extremists to oust him as pro-British. In Karradah Haji Naji was second by one vote and has been appointed Mayor by the Governor of Baghdad in whose hands the selection lies. An excellent Municipal Council has been returned at Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)], but what pleases me almost most is that at Kirkuk the former mayor, who is a great ally of mine, had an immense majority, though the Turkish party pulled every possible string against him, including an appeal to pan-Islamic sentiment. In Baghdad a number of really worthless agitators have been returned, but all the same our staunch friend Majid Shawi (with whom also you went to tea) is second on the list. The composition of the Baghdad Municipality doesn't however matter much, since Taufiq Beg as Governor of the town holds them in the hollow of his hand. The Shah arrives tomorrow on his way to Europe. His coming has raised some difficult questions for at first he announced that he wished to make a pilgrimage to Karbala before he left. Now his Govt has never formally recognized Faisal or Faisal's Govt although at the New Year the Shah wrote the King a cordial letter as one sovereign to another. Under these circumstances it was extremely difficult to allow him to visit shrines in Faisal's kingdom, for what was to be the attitude of 'Iraq officials? Fortunately Providence intervened - he was delayed at Hamadan by snow and will now only just have time to catch his boat at Basrah. He is travelling incognito and Faisal sends his representatives to meet him at the station and present a private letter from himself regretting that the character of his journey precludes him from giving the Shah a public reception. It will be very interesting to see what the Shah makes of it. I should think there are heavy odds against his ever returning to Persia. He has vast wealth invested where moths don't corrupt, namely in Switzerland, and the attraction of a luxurious life in Europe, without Bolshevists or Military Dictators, will probably prove irresistible. Sir Percy thinks the dynasty won't go, in which case Persia will be worse off than before for his brother and heir is a perceptible shade worse than he is. It doesn't much matter to us what happens in Persia as long as we get peace on our northern frontier - peace with the Turks. For the moment things are quiescent; the Persian Kurds have been bombed out of Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] and half the Turkish force - it only amounted to 120 men - has been withdrawn from Rawanduz [Rawandiz]. But the Kamalists are bringing up troops, presumably intending to attack in the spring and we have nothing to meet them but Levies and Arab Army, both pretty raw. That's the real anxiety; if it were removed we should go smoothly ahead. A.T. [Wilson] who has been in Baghdad for the last few days (his headquarters are at Muhammarah) paid me a long visit this evening and was very pleasant. I distrust him profoundly but as the interests of the APOC are bound up with stable government in this country, I cannot think that he will do anything to disturb the equilibrium and I'm anxious to see any developments which will pay us good royalties. Heaven knows we want money - like everyone else nowadays - and we must necessarily depend on foreign capital to develop our mineral resources. My new room is so nice. It's also an indescribable blessing to have a real fireplace with a fire burning in it. My house has a wonderful feeling of spaciousness, in a modest way. Rishan loves the fire even more than I do. You know, Father, I shall never be content till you come out again - I want you to see the King and my new room and everything. I think your next visit should be in the spring of 1923. I'll come to Aleppo [Halab] to meet you and take you here by motor. Feb. 2. [2 February 1922] Ja'far and Nuri with their wives came to dinner last night to meet Capt Clayton and Mr Thomson. Nuri was very full of the Shah's visit, for in his capacity as head of the police he had accompanied him in his pilgrimage to Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] which he made in the afternoon - he was only here the inside of a day. The Governor of Baghdad was also de service. As Nuri observed they had a great advantage over us, for as Moslems they could go into the mosque with the Shah and see that the Shi'ahs weren't up to any hanky panky. Only the Persian divines came to meet the Shah in the shrine. The Arab 'ulama studiously held aloof. Nuri, as an enlightened Sunni (probably a free thinker) viewed the proceedings with disgust and when he described how the Shah advanced kissing the pavement at intervals, observed that the must have embraced a number of microbes. I Bellieve he sent his Chamberlain to call on Faisal but I haven't heard yet what passed. Sir Percy said that he seemed to regard the fortunes of the Persian Govt with a detached interest. Mr Thomson and I are going out tomorrow for the day. We motor to Mahmudiyah [Mahmudiyah, Al], nearly half way to Hillah [Hillah, Al], get onto the horses which we sent out there today and ride along the tails of the new Yusufiyah canal, a big irrigation enterprize which I want to see. As I haven't been out of Baghdad for over two months I'm looking forward to it immensely. I see Lord Allenby has been summoned home to "confer". It's usually the formula for dismissal - I wonder if that's what it means. Much as I like him I think we need in Egypt a better diplomat than he. Reuter also gives us the discouraging news that the French Govt is not prepared to enter into conference with a view to a Near Eastern settlement. I privately Bellieve that knowing as well as we do that the Kamalists are preparing an offensive against 'Iraq in the spring they intend to procrastinate and see what happens. I've no use for the French - nor, I gather, have you. Their repeated declarations that Faisal has been intriguing against them from here are absolutely groundless. In spite of strong provocation, his attitude has been perfectly correct. Whether they hate him or us most is an open question but they are clearly prepared to go any lengths to wreck the 'Iraq state. What a difficult world the war has bequeathed to us! Ever dearest your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

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