images THE G WHO BUILT IRAQ PAINTINGIt is too bad that those who made the decision to invade Iraq and to occupy this country beyond 2003, did not take time to read their history books. Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. I still become squeamish when I recall the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld not stopping the looting of the antiquities from museums after we had supposedly liberated the Iraqi peoples. Time will show that Vice President Joe Biden probably offered the best strategy towards creating stability. Dividing Iraq into three separate territories (states) to represent their three major factions may be the only realistic non military solution for attaining peace in this area.

The following are some facts about Iraq from the early 1900s which include information about two Western influential personalities, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Gertrude Bell.

On August 15, 2013, The History Channel, (History in the Headlines), with,  Christopher Klein published “10 Things You May Not Know About “Lawrence of Arabia” as listed below:

Thomas Edward Lawrence, the British Army officer whose World War I exploits earned him the famed name of “Lawrence of Arabia,” was such an enigmatic figure that sources even argue about his precise birth date, which is reported as either August 15 or August 16, 1888. On the 125th anniversary of his birth, The History Channel reported on 10 surprising facts about T.E. Lawrence.

1. Born out of wedlock, Lawrence only learned his true identity after his father’s death.
In 1879, 18-year-old Sarah Lawrence arrived at the opulent Irish estate of Sir Thomas Chapman to begin work as a governess for his four daughters. The Victorian aristocrat and his domestic servant began an affair, and she secretly gave birth to their illegitimate son in 1885. When the scandal was discovered, Chapman left his wife and moved to Britain with his new love. Although the couple never wed, they adopted the last name Lawrence and pretended to be man and wife. T.E., who was the second of the couple’s five children, only learned the true identities of his parents after his father’s 1919 death.

2. The real “Lawrence of Arabia” was a man of short stature.
While six-foot, three-inch Peter O’Toole cut a towering figure as the lead in the 1962 epic biopic “Lawrence of Arabia,” the real Lawrence was only five feet, five inches tall. Lawrence remained self-conscious about his height, which may have been caused by a childhood case of the mumps.


3. He first traveled to the Middle East as an Oxford archaeology student.
Lawrence spent the summer of 1909 traveling solo through Syria and Palestine to survey the castles of the Crusaders for his thesis. He walked nearly 1,000 miles and was shot at, robbed and badly beaten. In spite of the arduous journey, the new graduate returned to Syria the following year as part of an archaeological expedition sponsored by the British Museum. His years in the region deepened his knowledge of Arabic and affinity for the Arabs.

4. He never had a single day of battlefield training.
In 1914, the British military employed Lawrence on an archaeological expedition of the Sinai Peninsula and Negev Desert, a research trip that was actually a cover for a secret military survey of territory possessed by the Ottoman Turks. Once World War I began, Lawrence joined the British military as an intelligence officer in Cairo. He worked a desk job for nearly two years before being sent to Arabia in 1916 where, in spite of his nonexistent military training, he helped to lead battlefield expeditions and dangerous missions behind enemy lines during the two-year Arab Revolt against the Turks.

5. Lawrence lost two brothers who also served in World War I.
Within months of each other in 1915, two of Lawrence’s younger brothers, Frank and Will, were killed fighting on the Western Front. The guilt Lawrence felt about his safe desk job in Cairo as millions died on the front lines spurred him to the field at the outbreak of the Arab Revolt in 1916.


6. Lawrence’s fame did not come until after the war.
Overshadowed by the millions of lives lost on the Western Front, Lawrence’s exploits were largely unheralded by the end of World War I in 1918. He was such an unknown figure that even the Turks, who had a bounty on his head, did not know what he looked like. However, when the American war correspondent Lowell Thomas launched a 1919 lecture tour recounting his assignment in the Middle East, his photographs and films of “Lawrence of Arabia” transfixed the public and transformed the British colonel into both a war hero and an international celebrity.

7. He refused a knighthood.
King George V summoned Lawrence to Buckingham Palace on October 30, 1918. Lawrence hoped that the private audience was to discuss borders for an independent Arabia, but instead the king wished to bestow a knighthood on his 30-year-old subject. Believing that the British government had betrayed the Arabs by reneging on a promise of independence, Lawrence quietly told the befuddled monarch that he was refusing the honor before turning and walking out of the palace.

8. Lawrence worked for Winston Churchill.
In 1921, the future prime minister became Colonial Secretary and employed Lawrence as an advisor on Arab affairs. The two men grew to admire each other and became lifelong friends.

Gertrude Bell with Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence ( Lawrence of Arabia)
Gertrude Bell with Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence ( Lawrence of Arabia)

9. After World War I, he re-enlisted under assumed names.
After completing his diplomatic service under Churchill, Lawrence returned to the military in 1922 by enlisting in the Royal Air Force. But in an attempt to avoid the glare of celebrity, he did so under a pseudonym: John Hume Ross. Months later, the press revealed his secret, and he was discharged. Lawrence subsequently enlisted as a private in the Royal Tank Corps, but under the assumed name Thomas Edward Shaw, a nod to his friend, the famed Irish writer George Bernard Shaw. Lawrence subsequently published an English translation of Homer’s Odyssey under the pen name of T.E. Shaw and maintained the assumed name until his death.

10. Lawrence died in a motorcycle crash.
Lawrence was an avid motorcyclist; he owned seven different Brough Superiors, dubbed the “Rolls-Royces of Motorcycles.” On the morning of May 13, 1935, Lawrence sped through the English countryside on his Brough Superior SS100 motorbike. He suddenly saw two boys on bicycles on the narrow country road and swerved to avoid them. However, he clipped one of the bikes and was thrown forward over the handlebars. Lawrence never recovered from his massive brain injuries and died at the age of 46 on May 19.

Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Bell

The Guardian published a history of Gertrude Bell on March 11, 2003 by James Buchanan which is at follows:

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on July 14 1868 in Washington, Co Durham. Her family were ironmasters on a grand scale, with progressive attitudes. In 1886, Bell went up to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she was the first woman to win a first-class degree in modern history. Unwanted in the marriage market – too “Oxfordy” a manner, it was said – she taught herself Persian and travelled to Iran in 1892, where her uncle was British ambassador.

She wrote her first travel book, Persian Pictures, and translated the libertine Persian poet Hafez into Yellow Book verse. She also fell in love with an impecunious British diplomat, who was rejected by her father. Though she was to form passionate attachments all her life, she kept them under rigid formal restraint.

images GB AT 26

The next decade, this red head killed time in two round-the-world journeys and in the Alps, where she gained renown for surviving 53 hours on a rope on the unclimbed north-east face of the Finsteraarhorn, when her expedition was caught in a blizzard in the summer of 1902. She had begun to learn Arabic in Jerusalem in 1897, wrote about Syria, and taught herself archaeology. She immersed herself in tribal politics and in 1914 made a dangerous journey to Hail, a town in northern Arabia that was the headquarters of a bitter enemy of Britain’s new ally, the founder of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud.

With the outbreak of war that summer, and the entry of the Ottoman empire on the side of Germany that November, Bell was swept up with TE Lawrence and other archaeologist-spies into an intelligence operation in Cairo, known as the Arab Bureau. In Iraq, an expeditionary force from India had surrendered to the Turks at Kut al-Amara on the lower Tigris in 1916. Bell travelled to Basra, where a new army was assembling. When Baghdad fell to the reinforcements in 1917, she moved up to the capital and was eventually appointed Sir Percy Cox’s oriental secretary, responsible for relations with the Arab population.

British policy in the Middle East was in utter confusion. While the government of India wanted a new imperial possession at the head of the Persian Gulf, London had made extravagant promises of freedom to persuade the Arabs to rise up against the Turks. The compromise, which was bitterly resented in Iraq, was the so-called League of Nations Mandate, granted to Britain in 1920.


Senior Indian officials, such as the formidable Sir Arnold T Wilson, (the British civil commissioner from 1918- 1920) argued that the religious and tribal divisions in Iraq would for ever undermine an Iraqi state. Bell believed passionately in Arab independence and persuaded London that Iraq had enough able men at least to provide an administrative façade. But she had two blind spots. She always overestimated the popularity of Cox and herself, and she underestimated the force of religion in Iraqi affairs and the Shia clergy “sitting in an atmosphere which reeks of antiquity and is so thick with the dust of ages that you can’t see through it – nor can they”.

On June 27 1920, she was writing: “In this flux, there is no doubt they are turning to us.” In fact, the Shia tribes of the entire middle Euphrates rose in revolt the next month, and hundreds of British soldiers and as many as 8,000 Iraqis were killed before it could be suppressed. The next spring, Winston Churchill called a conference in Cairo, where Bell – the only woman among the delegates – had her way. The Hashemite Prince Faisal, a protégé of TE Lawrence who had been ousted by the French in Syria, was acclaimed King of Iraq in a referendum that would not have shamed the Ba’ath. The “yes” vote was 96%. In place of the mandate, an Anglo-Iraqi treaty was railroaded through the Iraqi parliament.

Bell was carried away. “I’ll never engage in creating kings again; it’s too great a strain,” she wrote with uncharacteristic vanity. She fell prey to Iraqi flattery and was given the nickname Khatun, which means fine lady or gentlewoman. “As we rode back through the gardens of the Karradah suburb,” she told her father on September 11 1921, “where all the people know me and salute me as I pass, Nuri [Said] said, ‘One of the reasons you stand out so is because you’re a woman. There’s only one Khatun… For a hundred years they’ll talk of the Khatun riding by.’ I think they very likely will.”


Yet she could also attend a display of the force being deployed by the RAF on the Kurds around Sulaimaniya: “It was even more remarkable than the one we saw last year at the Air Force show because it was much more real. They had made an imaginary village about a quarter of a mile from where we sat on the Diala dyke and the two first bombs dropped from 3,000ft, went straight into the middle of it and set it alight. It was wonderful and horrible. Then they dropped bombs all round it, as if to catch the fugitives and finally fire bombs which even in the brightest sunlight made flares of bright flame in the desert. They burn through metal and water won’t extinguish them. At the end the armored cars went out to round up the fugitives with machine guns.”

Bell was never liked, either in London or New Delhi, and when Cox left Baghdad in 1923, she lost her bureaucratic protector. She devoted more of her time to her old love, archaeology, and established the Baghdad Archaeological Museum which, remarkably, has survived. Her letters home were more and more dominated by illness and depression. On Monday July 12 1926, quite suddenly, Gertrude Bell at 58 years old died. She is buried in Baghdad.

The Iraq of Gertrude Bell had lasted 37 years. The Ba’ath finally seized power in 1968, built a prosperous despotism in the 1970s but destroyed itself and the country in hopeless military adventures in Iran in the 1980s and Kuwait in 1990. As of 2003, Ba’athist Iraq had lasted 35 years.

Gertrude Bell and others
Gertrude Bell and others

Additional facts about Gertrude Bell can be found in the UNC Study by Barbara Furst in February, 2005 and the following are some excerpts:

In Tehran, Bell fell in love with a British diplomat, Henry Cadogan. The sun, the horseback rides into the surrounding rugged landscape with the young Cadogan, reading the Persian poet Hafiz (also known as Hafez) to each other, the freedom, the romance were the beginnings of her passion for the East. In spite of her strong spirit, when her parents did not approve of the match, she gave him up. She remained single; and though in middle age she developed two strong romantic attachments to men — both of them married…

A couple of years later she made a months-long trek across Syria that resulted in her classic The Desert and the Sown, published in 1907 but still a standard guide for anyone visiting Syria and especially its desert ruins and the so-called “dead cities” in the northwestern part of the country. In that account, Bell records hiring the muleteers and a cook, purchasing provisions at various stops along the way, and setting up and breaking camp. She photographed and wrote down her impressions of local people, and surveyed, measured and photographed ancient ruins, later making some of them subjects for scholarly papers.

Between forays into the Middle East, she climbed the Alps and was described by a professional Swiss mountaineer as a woman without fear, who didn’t lose her nerve even under the most perilous conditions. Despite her independence and fearlessness, her letters home to her adored and adoring father Hugh and stepmother Florence Bell show a strong and childlike need for their approval all her life.


Such an arrival! Sir Percy Cox made me most welcome and said a house had been allotted to me… a tiny, stifling box of a place in a dirty little bazaar. Fortunately, I had not parted from my bed and bath. These I set up and further unpacked one of my boxes which had been dropped into the Tigris and hung out all the things to dry on the railing of the court.
Baghdad, April 20 1917

I don’t think I shall ever be able to detach myself permanently from the fortunes of this country…. it’s a wonderful thing to feel the affection and confidence of a whole people round you. But oh to be at the end of the war and to have a free hand!
Baghdad, May 26 1917 


    • This is an old draft that I decided to publish. How do you like my new blog format?

      Right now, I am in Chicago, Naperville area, babysitting the grandchildren while staying with my son and his wife. Tomorrow, I am taking my grandson to the Museum of Science and Industry and for lunch at Chicago’s downtown Lou Malnati’s for deep dish pizza. Friday, we are going to Blackberry Farm in Aurora and the aquarium sometime this weekend. It is not easy thinking of activities that both a 12 year old and a one year old can enjoy.

      I’ll be back home in August. I had a great time in Italy!!! I am sorry to be missing out on blogging as there has been a lot of great news lately, like the SCOTUS recent decisions.


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