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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell writes of the arrival of Sir Henry Dobbs and his wife, Lady Esme Dobbs, and provides an update on her recent social activities. She comments on the political situation in Iraq, noting that the ministerial Cabinet has been settled and that a delegation of notable Shi'ah have visited King Feisal to promise the allegiance of their community to the British. Bell notes confidentially that letters have been intercepted by the R.A.F. from Mujtahids in Persia relating to Feisal's relationship with them, and ends with a brief comment on the ongoing situation relating to Kurdish resistance to the British Mandate in Sulaimani.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Dobbs, Esme
Dobbs, Henry
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Nov 29 Darling Father. This is in answer to your letter of Nov 15 and Mother's of Nov. 14. First, wasn't it dreadful when Herbert had fever just as he was going to leave. I do hope he is all right and I wonder when I shall hear from him from India. Elsa, when she writes to him, might tell him I shall be glad of anything he likes to get down on paper. And you, Father, I'm glad you decided not to stand. I think you're really more useful outside the House. You give me no forecast of what will happen - perhaps you haven't an idea. I haven't.
My chief news is the arrival of Lady Dobbs. We all went to meet them at the station on Friday and found that Sabih Beg had spontaneously arranged an elegant reception, carpets on the ground and a police guard, the King's chief A D.C. and all the officials. Poor Lady Dobbs, who thought she was going to slip in unobserved, was rather taken aback. She has with her a little cousin, Miss Miller, granddaughter of Sir Alfred Lyall, very bright eyed and alert; she is learning Arabic for all she is worth. She knows and loves you, Mother, for she was at Devonshire House and she says you were so kind to the UADs always. The meeting over, I hurried home - it was 2 p.m. - and found the magnates of the wilderness waiting in my garden by appointment. I had arranged to photograph them. 'Audah Abu Tai (he who is loafering about Baghdad) Nuri al Sha'lan who is Fahad Beg's opposite number in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] - head of the western 'Anizah - and 'Ali Sulaiman of the Dulaim, our Dulaim of the Euphrates.

I shall now stop photographing, for I have done my masterpiece with 'Audah and I shall never be able to approach it. I'll send you a copy next week - it's like a magnificent engraving. But then he is a fine subject, the old eagle.

On Saturday afternoon we all went to the races, H.M. and Their Es. It was Lady Dobbs's introduction to our world and she was much entertained. I also, was infinitely amused to have her and Miss Miller to talk to. Lady D. is an angel to me. I tactfully thought I wouldn't assume that I was expected every day to lunch, so I didn't go on Monday and on Tuesday I received from her this note I enclose. Isn't it charming?

We were all rather beaming on Saturday because the Cabinet had just been finally settled quite satisfactorily. (Next morning, I may add, H.M. re-settled it, but also quite satisfactorily. Education was not, however, filled in and he has made a suggestion which I don't like and am resisting. I'm going round to Ken Cornwallis on my way to office - I'm writing before breakfast - to be given the latest news, untelephonable, to convey to Sir Henry.)

Capt. Clayton came back on Saturday and Lionel Smith arrived too. They dropped in to see me after dinner and stayed talking till 11.30. It's a deadlock in Palestine. Capt C. thinks a Jewish High Commissioner is impossible, good as Sir Herbert is.

I spent the whole day on Sunday helping Ken Cornwallis to get into a new house. It was a great bore his having to change, for the other was very convenient, but it was too expensive. He was called away by the King most of the morning to discuss the Cabinet, as above, so I arranged the house myself. It's amusing furnishing houses and we have made the new one quite nice. His household was billeted on me for the day. We had a pleasant bridge party in the evening - Ken, Capt Clayton, and {Squadron Leader} Wing Commander Bradley who is a most attractive creature, I'm so glad I've discovered him.

On Tuesday I'm sorry to say I had a pain in my inside so I did not lunch with Their Es, not wishing to lunch at all; but I was all right yesterday and went to a most amusing luncheon with them to meet the 'Askariyah Cabinet, so called because Ja'far al 'Askari is premier. Nuri, Defence; Haji Muhsin Shalash, a Shi'ah banker of Najaf [Najaf, An], Finance; 'Ali Jaudat Beg, who dined with me ten days ago, Interior; the Belloved old Qadhi of Mosul [Mawsil, Al], Saiyid Ahmad, Justice - and I'm so glad to have him here; Sabih Beg, Works, - he is my Minister in my capacity of Director of Antiquities and I'm very lucky; Salih Bash'ayan, of Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)], a good friend, Auqaf. It was a very gay and friendly party. I carried off from it a beautiful yellow satin embroidered smock from Quetta, which was lying about and I admired. Lady D. at once insisted on my taking it and I wore it as a tea gown that evening when I came in from riding.

Things are going almost incredibly well. A big Shi'ah deputation, all the Shi'ah notables of Baghdad and Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)], waited on the King the other day and told him that the Shi'ah community had seen the error of their ways and were now going to back the treaty and the British connection through thick and thin. Among them were men who were interned in Henjam [Henqam] last year at the crisis after the King's Levy.

Muhsin Shalash, the Shi'ah Minister of Finance, sent in a special message yesterday morning for me to give to Sir Henry, telling him that he, Muhsin, was going to work hand in glove with us and that 'the first' business was to ratify the treaty and the subsidiary agreements as they stand.

Another interesting thing happened - this is secret. The R.A.F. intercepted in the post a packet of most important letters from the Mujtahids in Persia to their agents here, saying that H.M. had promised to overturn Muhsin Sa'dun's Cabinet, put in a Shi'ah ministry with a Shi'ah premier, recall the Mujtahids and reject the treaty. They did not trust his promises but they enclosed a signed and sealed fatwah withdrawing the bann [sic] on the elections on the ground that H.M. had carried out the above pledges. This was to be shown to him but not published till he had done his part. We can't think how they came to entrust all this to the post; they have till now sent all their letters by the hand of messengers. We have known about them, after their arrival, from police agents, but never actually had them in our possession. After long consultations we decided that Sir Henry should take them to H.M. and observe that though H.M. had told H.E. that he was keeping the mujtahids in play, he had gone dangerously far and given them a weapon against him. H.M. took it quite cheerfully, saying that they had exaggerated his offers, but that they could now safely be left to stew in their own juice and he would cease negotiations with them. So that's that.

Finally, Shaikh Mahmud, who still hangs out sullenly in Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As], has come to the end of his tether. All his followers have left him in disgust and he fears daily that he may be ejected. His last offer to us is that he can serve us by inducing the Kurdish tribes of Persia to declare for a British mandate. This we peremptorily rejected, at the same time communicating it to the Persian Govt, so that we have done for S.M. in that direction if he wished to turn to it. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

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