Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen writes in his Middle East Diary 1917-1956:
“It would have been better for our country and perhaps for the world if CM Doughty, [TE] Lawrence and Gertrude Bell had not been such admirable and persuasive writers.” Doughty (1843-1926) was the author of Travels in Arabia Deserta, which greatly influenced Lawrence and Bell.
In April 1916, Gertrude Bell arrives in Basra to take up the post of Senior Political Officer. Over the next 10 years she would design the constitution, select the leadership and draw the borders of the new state of Iraq. Nearly 18,000 British troops had just been captured by the Turks after a siege at Kut, 40 miles from Baghdad. She writes to her mother:
“We rushed into the business with our usual disregard for a comprehensive political scheme. We treated Mesopotamia, as if it were an isolated unit, instead of which it is part of Arabia, its politics indissolubly connected with the great and far reaching Arab question…
“Well that’s enough of politics. But when people talk of our muddling through it throws me into a passion. Muddle through! Why yes, so we do—wading through blood and tears that need never have been shed.”
In August 1920, TE Lawrence writes:
“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information…Things have been far worse than we have been told…
“How long will we permit millions of pounds, thousands of imperial troops and tens of thousands of Arabs to be sacrificed on behalf of a form of colonial administration which can benefit nobody but the administrators?”
In September 1922, Winston Churchill, Colonial Secretary, writes to David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister:
“I am deeply concerned about Iraq… I think we should now put definitely, not only to Feisal [the King] but to the Constituent Assembly, the position that unless they beg us to stay and to stay on our own terms in regard to efficient control, we shall actually evacuate before the close of the financial year.
“I would put this issue in the most brutal way, and if they are not prepared to urge us to stay and to co-operate in every manner I would actually clear out… At present we are paying £8m a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having.”
In October 1963, CWR Long, a British diplomat, writes in his memoir:
“The only unpleasant feature of life in Baghdad, detracting from its perfection but adding to its romance, was the political tension. It was palpable.
“My house had a quaint, triangular mezzanine bathroom. Shaving there every morning, I could immediately tell from the sounds of the city heard through the window whether or not trouble was to be expected. It very often was.
“I had been there no more than three and a half months when a split occurred in the Ba’th government which had been in power since the violent overthrow of the regime of the terminator of the monarchy, Abd al-Karim Qasim. I heard my secretary say ‘Oh no, not again.’ I heard the sharp crack of machine-gun fire far above. An Iraqi Air Force Hawker Hunter flashed silver across the sky and returned to make another attack. This was repeated a couple of times, provoking no answering fire, before quiet returned and the city held its breath. A curfew came down and I and my colleagues had to remain in the Embassy until the middle of the evening until, with typical optimism, the government announced that the affair was over and life had returned to normal. The staff stowed away the camp beds they had been expecting to spend the night on.”
In October 2003, Mark Etherington arrives in Kut as Governate Co-ordinator of the Coalition Provisional Authority following the invasion of Iraq.
“It is the unvarying bleakness of much of Iraq’s southern flatlands that makes the presence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers… so arresting. Their importance to the country is impossible to exaggerate…
“Perhaps it was this primacy of the elements that had imbued [the Iraqi people] with an innate and fatalistic conservatism, a quality doubtless compounded by years of persecution under Saddam Hussein. The Iraqis of the region seemed at once to long for change but were unable to allow themselves the guilty excitement of expecting it… They wanted, I thought, a miracle; but almost without exception none saw themselves as part of the solution.”