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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-
Cox, Percy
Montagu, Edwin
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Eskell, Sassoon
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Allenby, Edmund
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

March 12. Darling Father. Last Sunday, i.e. a week ago, Mr Cornwallis and I motored out above Baghdad and went for a very long and delightful walk through gardens and wheatfields, with the result that not having walked for ages, I came home with a terrific blister on my heel, which has been bothering me all the week and still keeps me crippled, besides causing me acute pain when I wash it with iodine. I've been disagreeably sedentary in consequence, for torrents of rain on Monday turned the world into a morass and till yesterday one could not even ride. I spent Tuesday afternoon with the King and we had an immense talk partly, owing to the nearness of the general elections, about the formation of political parties. He was very anxious - I really think that in this country it would be best - that people of different opinion should find a platform of agreement and start a single party with a combined policy for the elections. I've unexpectedly been thrown into the thick of it during the last few days. On Thursday the extremists petitioned the Interior for permission to form a party. Majid Shawi and Fakhri Jamil immediately came round to me and said they wouldn't touch it. I advised them to sound the Naqib and see if they could get anything else going on their side. Next morning the plot thickened. One of the extremists, a leader of the disturbances of 1920, came to me at the office, Ja'far Abu Timman, a man I've always liked and wanted to be on terms with. He said he and his friends, or some of them, were ready to form a combined party and asked me to draw up a list of founders. This I did but he pressed for two men whom I knew the moderates would never work with. However I suggested that he should go and see Fakhri and try to come to terms. With that I sent for Majid Shawi and found that Abu Timman had already had a talk with him before coming to me. Majid Beg said that he and Fakhri were deep in consultation with the Naqib who was all out for founding a moderate constitutional party and would make all his family join it. Negotiations have been going on for the last two days but I think combination will not be possible. The Naqib would au besoin accept Ja'far Abu Timman but the other revolutionaries of 1920 he won't have and I don't think Ja'far will desert them and come in to the moderates by himself. At the same time it's pretty clear that the extremists are alarmed by the determined attitude of the moderates and I fancy they have every reason for being so. I happen to have seen a good number of shaikhs and saiyids from down Najaf [Najaf, An] way this week and they are all deadly afraid that the extremists will lead them into trouble and very anxious to get a line from the High Commissioner. I don't like the split. I fear it will lead to bitter recriminations, and we seem to have come so near to an adjustment that it's provoking that we can't go just a little further. It's a moment when one feels how deplorable it was that affairs couldn't be kept from boiling over in 1920. The events of that year have left feelings of personal bitterness and distrust which are very difficult to conquer. On the other hand there's no doubt that they have been a warning to the country districts - the tribal shaikhs are not likely to embark again on any line which might lead to disturbances. Rabbi Kornfelder who is the newly appointed USA Minister at Tehran [(Teheran)] is here on his way to his post. I dined and met him on Friday and heard a great deal about the East. Incidentally I may mention that he has never before been east of Boston. All the same he is rather an interesting man. I had him to lunch today and a little party to meet him, including Col. Slater and Sasun Eff. Sasun and Dr Kornfelder agree in being anti-Zionists. I also had a dinner party last week of officers of the 'Iraq General Staff with Major Eadie and to meet them. Very nice they were. - Sir Percy has just been in to give his advice on the question of parties, namely that if the two parties can't come to an agreement the moderates are bound to go ahead on their own lines. I'm now expecting (a) Nuri Pasha, (b) Fakhri and Majid Beg to discuss the same subject, the last two to tell me the developments of the day and hear Sir Percy's views. It's deeply interesting, but rather agonizing to be taking so decisive a share in all this. One feels that a wrong step may do a great deal of harm. But both Sir Percy and I think that the country as a whole is with the moderates if they will come forward boldly and also that the Naqib's influence is a very strong factor at present and that what he is known to back will win. As for my journey, a young police officer down from Mosul [Mawsil, Al] and going back tomorrow, says I shall have no difficulty in motoring over at any date I like. I carefully invited him to lunch today, he enjoyed himself talking to a pretty lady whom I had also carefully asked, and went away promising to send me detailed information as soon as he got back to Mosul. Meantime Col. Borton (R.A.F.) says he will fly me over to Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] if Sir Percy requests him to do so - but this had better not be mentioned. I'll see which fits best. It's just on the cards that I may have to come back here after our time together in Palestine, but I don't think it's very likely. You see my feeling is - perhaps strengthened a little by the events of the last few days - that I can't very well leave my friends here stranded at such a crucial moment, for at least I serve as a sort of clearing house for them. But in the course of the next few weeks things may have shaped themselves. Col. Borton has just come back from flying over our northern frontier and is convinced that he can meet a Turkish attack, if it develops, which is encouraging. March 14. [14 March 1922] The party question is still undecided and I haven't heard anything about it today. Meantime the wind is up in another quarter. For some time past letters have been passing between Sir Percy and Ibn Sa'ud. The conquest of Hail by the latter in Nov. makes his frontiers continuous with the 'Iraq. Sir Percy is anxious to arange a treaty between him and Faisal - they are bitterly jealous of one another on the basis that the desert edges into which our shepherds go down with their flocks in the spring shall be included in 'Iraq. Ibn Sa'ud wants to claim all the desert as his and has recently, to Faisal's immense annoyance, been exacting tribute from our shepherds. Finally matters came to a head on the 11th when Ibn Sa'ud's people attacked in immense force a camel corps recently organized by the King to protect our frontiers and routed them. Today the Akhwan fired on an aeroplane reconnaissance and orders were issued that their camp was to be bombed. Ibn Sa'ud may repudiate the action of his followers; that's the best that can happen for otherwise we're practically at war with him. Life in this country is not lacking in incident. The airmail is in bringing letters from you and Mother dated Feb 22 - bless you both. I've also got your telegram saying that you intend to be in Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] about Feb. 27 which I was specially glad to receive as it's a proof that you must be well again - when you wrote you were in bed with a cold. Thank you very much for all the Times cuttings. It's satisfactory that they published my letter. Mr Montague Bell, Editor of the Near East, also arrived by aeroplane and has been made very welcome here. He is a nice creature and his paper is very sympathetic to us, so he's looked on as a friend. Sir Bertie Clayton has been offered the post of second in command to Sir Percy - I do hope he'll accept it. Captain Clayton and I rode through the green desert this afternoon and discussed the chances of his coming, the Akhwan raid and all the other things of which our minds are full. The Reuters are full of the astounding news about Edwin. I'm very very sorry. I think he is a great loss from the Asiatic point of view. He is one of the few people in authority who have recognized the importance of the new attitude of the East and moulded our policy to meet it. The others seem to me to be mainly time servers - witness the dealings of the Cabinet with Allenby of which Domnul sends me an extremely interesting account. There's no principle underlying their policy; it's one thing here and another there. At the same time the views expressed by India on the conditions of peace with Turkey are preposterous and extravagant and can do nothing but harm. I wonder if Lord Reading will go too and if he does whether anyone will be bold enough to accept the office of Viceroy. We seem to me to be spinning a very bad cotton in India. March 16. [16 March 1922] I've just come in from a most delightful dinner with the King; Mr Montague Bell, Col. Borton and Ja'far Pasha were the other guests. The King was charming as ever; he is very much delighted with the Akhwan business - and so am I. The next day, after they had fired on our aeroplanes we bombed their camp. They fled south 40 miles in the night and next morning our aeroplanes pursued them and bombed them again. They had made a wholly unprovoked attack, looted and killed our peaceful shepherds and carried off our flocks. I don't know when I've felt so proud of our power to strike back. The Akhwan with their horrible fanatical appeal to a mediaeval faith rouse in me the blackest hatred. They are the worst example of that abominable thing our omnipotent religions sanction. I must now turn my attention to providing the King with amusements of a reasonable kind. He leads an absurd existence, working in his office all the morning and walking up and down his balcony or taking a solemn drive in a motor in the afternoon. I've engaged him to go out tomorrow with Shaikh Ali Sulaiman of the Dulaim to see the new Dulaim canal and I shall go into Council with Capt Clayton to take him out riding. Thanks to your sending me the cutting from the Times by airmail, my letter was published in one of the vernacular papers today and was the subject of much rejoicing tonight at the Palace. It has made a good effect and I hope will restore my credit a little with the extremists, who, I hear, regard me as exceedingly severe! Well, if it's severity to try and stop them from pitching headlong into a gulf of wild nationalist ambitions, I am. The King is much against my going on leave. I shall see him on Tuesday and talk about it. I think Sir Percy would be glad if I stayed. Anyway this won't stand in the way of meeting you in Palestine but I may come back from there. If I stayed I should go up into Kurdish mountains for a month in the summer. Well, I must think it over. Ever dearest your very affectionate daughter Gertrude Mother's delightful letter to Hugo and me of Feb 15 has just come. I love to think of her as a lady of the Jury.

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