غيرترود بيل – ملكة العراق

The future King of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud (1880 - 1953) (left) meets with British diplomat Sir Percy Cox (1864 - 1937) (second left) and Cox's political advisor, Gertrude Bell (1868 - 1926), probably in Basra, Mesopotamia (later known as Iraq). The man at right is an unidentified British staff officer.
Image: Life archive
More images: Newcastle University Library
English text: Wikipedia

في البدء كانت صحراء شاسعة، رمال وعشائر وتجمعات تجارية، وواحات جميلة، وبشر استحوذت على انتباه المستكشفون والمخابرات في بريطانيا وفرنسا اثناء ايام الامبراطورية العثمانية المريضة. وكما في كل مرة في التاريخ، دمجت عشائر وامم بالقوة، وفرقت امم وقوميات بالقوة وبالحيلة احيانا. الهدف السيطرة على شبكة مواصلات طبيعية تقع ما بين العالم القديم الغربي ومستعمراتهم في الشرق الاقصى. ثم جاء النفط. أما كيف تم جمع السكان الشيعة في جنوب ما يسمى بالعراق مع السكان السنة في وسط العراق مع السكان الاكراد في شمال العراق فهذا يسأل عنه ملكة العراق الغير متوجة غيرترود بيل المتطوعة لخدمة بلادها بريطانيا. أما لماذا انضمت عسير اليمنية الى غرب السعودية، فهذا له قصة اخرى حيكت ايضا في دهاليز شركات النفط وفسطاط الامراء والملوك. هنا قصة غيرترود بيل حسب ويكيبيديا:

Work in the Middle East

In November 1915, however, she was summoned to Cairo to the nascent Arab Bureau, headed by General Gilbert Clayton. She also again met T. E. Lawrence. At first she did not receive an official position, but, in her first months there, helped Lt Cmdr David Hogarth set about organizing and processing her own, Lawrence’s and Capt. W. H. I. Shakespear’s data about the location and disposition of Arab tribes that could be encouraged to join the British against the Turks. Lawrence and the British used the information in forming alliances with the Arabs.

On 3 March 1916, after hardly a moment’s notice, Gen. Clayton sent Bell to Basra, which British forces had captured in November 1914, to advise Chief Political Officer Percy Cox regarding an area she had visited the most. She drew maps to help the British army reach Baghdad safely. She became the only female political officer in the British forces and received the title of “Liaison Officer, Correspondent to Cairo” (i.e. to the Arab Bureau where she had been assigned). She was Harry St. John Philby‘s field controller, and taught him the finer arts of behind-the-scenes political manoeuvering.

When British troops took Baghdad (10 March 1917), Bell was summoned by Cox to Baghdad and presented with the title of “Oriental Secretary.” She, Cox and T. E. Lawrence were among a select group of “Orientalists” convened by Winston Churchill to attend a 1921 Conference in Cairo to find a way to reduce the expense of stationing British troops in its post-WWI mandates. Gertrude is supposed to have described T.E.L. as being able “to ignite fires in cold rooms”, but so could she. Throughout the conference, the two worked tirelessly to promote the establishment of the countries of Transjordan and Iraq to be presided over by the Kings Abdullah and Faisal, sons of the instigator of the Arab Revolt against Turkey (ca. 1915-1916), Hussein bin Ali, Sharif and Emir of Mecca. Until her death in Baghdad, she served in the Iraq British High Commission advisory group there. Referred to by Iraqis as “Al Khatun” (a Lady of the Court who keeps an open eye and ear for the benefit of the State), she was a confidante of King Faisal of Iraq and helped introduce him to Iraq’s tribal leaders at the start of his reign. He helped her to found Baghdad’s great Iraqi Archaeological Museum from her own modest artifact collection and to establish The British School of Archaeology, Iraq, for the endowment of excavation projects from proceeds in her will. The stress of authoring a prodigious output of books, articles of correspondence, intelligence reports, reference works, white papers; of recurring bronchitis attacks brought on by years of heavy smoking in the company of English and Arab cohorts; of bouts with malaria; and finally, of coping with Baghdad’s summer heat … all took a toll on her health. Somewhat frail to start with, she became nearly emaciated.

Like T. E. Lawrence, she had attended Oxford and earned First Class Honours in Modern History. Bell spoke Arabic, Persian, French and German. She was an archaeologist, traveller and photographer in the Middle East before World War I. Under recommendation by renowned archaeologist and historian David Hogarth, first Lawrence, then Bell, were assigned to Army Intelligence Headquarters in Cairo in 1915 for war service. Because both Bell and Lawrence had traveled the desert and established ties with the local tribes and gain unique perspectives of the people and the land prior to WWI, Hogarth realized the value of Lawrence and Bell’s expertise. Both Bell and Lawrence stood hardly 5’5″, yet both could ride with great determination and endurance through the desert for hours on end. Both died prematurely after recurring bouts of depression, burn-out and exhaustion. Her work was specially mentioned in the British Parliament, and she was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Some consider the present troubles in Iraq are derived from the lines Bell helped draw to create its borders. Perhaps so, but Gertrude’s reports indicate that problems were foreseen, and that it was clearly understood that there were just not many (if any) permanent solutions for calming the divisive forces at work in that part of the world.

Creation of Iraq

As the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire was finalized by the end of the war in late January 1919, Bell was assigned to conduct an analysis of the situation in Mesopotamia. Due to her familiarity and relations with the tribes in the area she had strong ideas about the kinds of leadership needed in Iraq. She spent the next ten months writing what was later considered a masterful official report, “Self Determination in Mesopotamia”. A. T. Wilson, had different ideas of how Iraq should be run, but his ideas were dismissed for a more favorable approach that which the Arab government would be the mask of British officials who would retain control with the acceptance of the unknowing people. Due to the Iraqi Revolt of 1920, this new system of government was neccessary to reframe from further revolts against the British government rule.

On 11 October 1920, Percy Cox returned to Baghdad and asked her to continue as Oriental Secretary, acting as liaison with the forthcoming Arab government. Gertrude Bell essentially played the role of mediator between the Arab government and British officials. Bell had to often mediate between the various groups of Iraq including a majority population of Shi’is in the southern region, Sunnis in central Iraq, and the Kurds, mostly in the northern region, who wished to be autonomous. Keeping theses groups united was essential for political balance in Iraq and British imperial interests in the century. Iraq not only contained valuable resources in oil but would act as a buffer zone, with the help of Kurds in the north as a standing army in the region to protect against Turkey, Persia, and Syria. British officials in London, especially Churchill, were highly concerned with cutting heavy costs in the colonies that included squashing infighting between the groups in Iraq. Another important project for both the British and new Iraqi rulers was creating a new identity for these people so that they would identify together as one nation.

British officials quickly realized that the usual strategies in governing were adding to their costs and the alternative option to reduce expenses was to have Iraq become a self-governing state. A conference was held in Cairo in 1921 to work out the details and come to a conclusion on the system of government in Iraq. Here British officials determined the political and geographic structure of what would become Iraq. Significant input was given by Gertrude Bell in these discussions thus she was an essential part of its creation. Also at the Cairo Conference Bell and Lawrence highly recommended Faysal bin Hussein, (the son of Hussein, Sherif of Mecca), former commander of the Arab forces that helped the British during the war and entered Damascus at the culmination of the Arab Revolt. He had been recently deposed by France in 1920 as King of Syria, and British officials at the Cairo Conference decided to make him the first king of Iraq. They believed that due to his lineage as a Hashemite and diplomatic skills he would be respected and have the ability to unite the various groups in the country. The British behind the Shi’as would respect him because of his lineage from Prophet Muhammad and Sunnis, including Kurds, would follow him because he was Sunni from a respected family and a war hero. Keeping all the groups under control in Iraq was essential to balance the political and economic interests of the British. Bell was the influential force to persuade Churchill that Faysal could do that. Another important aspect of the Cairo Conference agenda was to convince the people of Iraq that the election of Faysal was their will and that the election was done with their interests in mind.

Upon’s Faysal’s arrival in 1921, Bell advised him in local questions, including matters involving tribal geography and local business. She also supervised the selection of appointees for cabinet and other leadership posts in the new government.Although Bell helped Faysal as he reigned as king to balance the different groups and acquaint him with the region it was a very difficult task and multiple conflicts and rivalries remained, which continue to cause friction within Iraq even today.

Throughout the 1920’s Bell was an integral part of the administration of Iraq. Her influence is found in many examples. While the new Hashemite monarchy began using the Sharifian flag, which consisted of a black stripe representing the Abbasid caliphate, green stripe representing the Ummayad caliphate, and a white stripe for Fatimid Dynasty, and lastly a red triangle to set across the three bands symbolizing Islam, Bell felt it essential to customize it for Iraq by adding a gold star to the design. These flags would later be adorned in the street for Faysal’s 1921 arrival in Baghdad the capital of Iraq. Faysal was crowned king of Iraq on 23 August 1921, but he was not completely welcomed. Utilizing Shi’ite history to gain support for Faysal, during the holy month of Muharram, Bell compared Faysal’s arrival in Baghdad to Huysan, grandson of Prophet Muhammad and considered the third Imam by Shi’as, attempting to come to Iraq in 680 to become caliph. She tried to shame Shi’as by portraying the distain and lack of support Huysan received, as well as his eventual martyrdom, was similar to the attitudes towards Faysal in 1921.

It was efforts like these that made her a very influential administrator in Iraq. Due to her influence with the new king, Bell earned the nickname, “The Uncrowned Queen of Iraq. However working with the new king was not easy: “You may rely upon one thing — I’ll never engage in creating kings again; it’s too great a strain.”