Suleiman Faidhi was an intellectual, a lawyer, judge, politician, journalist
and leading patriotic figure in a national struggle for libration and political independence of Iraq in the first half of the 20th century.
He was amongst the first reformers to call for a social and cultural awakening in the Arab world,
challenging the dominance of the Ottomans and later turning into a strong critic of British colonialism.
Suleiman Faidhi served his country throughout his eventful career, maintaining a consistently
patriotic stance and defending the rights of the people. He set up a number of charities and used his legal knowledge and political know-how to help pass laws defending
fairness and pursuing justice for the Iraqi people.
Not driven by money or power, he was an admired figure that stood for political and educational reforms. A progressive liberal thinker, his actions
were aimed purely at long term benefits for the fledgling Iraqi nation. He instigated projects to help orphans, opened schools and hospitals and taught law. As a journalist, he utilised his newspaper as an instrument
for getting the voices of Iraqi politicians heard in a country under foreign dominance.
With high expectations for emerging Iraq, he was among a leading generation of Iraqi intellectuals that called
for a social revival. They set up opposition parties, created numerous political and cultural organisations and helped build a foundation for an independent Iraq.
In an Arabic country where Ottoman
Turkish language had an official status, he was instrumental in ensuring that Arabic was taught in schools and used in courts and government. He also advocated the rightful positions for Iraqi people in
Suleiman Faidhi was a kind and honourable man. In Basra, where he spent most of his life, he was well known for his integrity and readiness to help the needy and disadvantaged
regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.
هو من رواد النهضة العربية في العراق والفكرة القومية في الوطن العربي, كان من الموجهين الاوائل للحركة الوطنية والعاملين من اجل تحقيقها
تعد حياته صفحة من صفحات الجهاد الوطني في سبيل تحرير العراق واستقلاله السياسي و نهضته الاجتماعية
كان من ابرز المقاومين للاستعمار, فكان من عناوين الكفاح ضد الحكم العثماني ورفض النفوذ البريطاني
عرف بمواقفه الوطنية وخدماته الصحفية المبكرة, و اتسم نشاطه الوطني بالهدوء والكياسة والتسامح. خدم بلاده وامته خدمة صادقة و صامتة في معظم الحالات, فكان طرازا من الرجال مؤمنا بالله, رقيق الحاشية جم الادب كبير التواضع مرتفعا عن الصغائر لم تبهره المناصب ولم يغره مال
كان الى جانب نشاطه الوطني والثقافي من رجال القانون البارزين واساتذته المعروفين, وقد درس على يديه جيل كامل من رجال القانون واعلام السياسة في العراق
ولد في الموصل عام 1885 و توفى في بغداد عام 1951 عن عمر 66 عاما
حمله طموحه من الموصل الى بغداد والى البصرة التي اصبح من اعلامها والى عاصمة الدولة العثمانية عضوا في مجلس المبعوثان و ممثلا لوطنه ومدافعا عن حقوق امته وشعبه
ومنذ قيام الحكم الوطني في العراق ظل سجل حياته حافلا بالاصلاح ينتقل من عمل نافع الى عمل انفع, كما بقي الوطنيون يلجأون اليه في الملمات و يطلبون مشورته
خلف احد عشر مؤلفا في القانون و الرحلات و الادب وأول قصة عراقية حديثة, أضافة الى عشرات البحوث والمقالات والخطب في المناسبات الرسمية الوطنية والثقافية
Suleiman Faidhi was born in 1885 in Mosul, Iraq (then part of the Ottoman Empire). His father was a religious figure. He studied at the Military School in Baghdad, then moved to Basra in 1904. He obtained his degree in law from Istanbul in 1911, returning to Basra to open the first ever law office there.
In 1909, in Basra, he opened the first school “Tathkar al- Hurriyah” ( Memory of Freedom). Teaching in Arabic was introduced in this school for the first time. Turkish, English and French were taught too. This was possible only because the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hameed was overthrown and the new rulers promised more national rights to the people of the Empire. Christians, Jews and Muslims studied in the same class and those from poor families paid no fees.
He also started the first Arabic newspaper in Basra. The newspaper was called al-Iqaadh (The Awakening). It called for reforms, protesting against the abuse of local Ottoman authority and was dedicated to the encouragement of education. It became very popular and was distributed in India, Mohamarra, Kuwait, Bahrain, Aden, Jeddah and Singapore, in addition to Iraq. Faidhi’s play “al Riwaia al-Iqaadhia” (The Awakening) – published in 1919- was the first play written in Iraq for centuries and aimed to encourage the young to enter schools and to convince their fathers to allow them to do so.
Suleiman Faidhi founded the Basra branch of the Moderate Liberal Party in August 1911. Later he was a founder-member of the Liberty and Union Party, followed by the Reform Society in February 1914. He acted as the secretary general for these parties under the leadership of Sayyid Talib Pasha, the son of the Naqib of Basra and the “strongman” of southern Iraq. The objectives of these parties were to consolidate the efforts of the Arab nationalistic struggle against the new rulers in Istanbul. They enjoyed a semi-independent role in Basra and its suburbs until the city’s fall to the British in November 1914. As a pioneering force, these political movements set an example to the other Arab nationalists in different parts of the Arab lands. Furthermore it gained more power and influence when many Arab officers in the Ottoman army joined secretly.
Elected as a member of the Ottoman Parliament (Mab’oothan) in 1912 and 1914 representing Basra, Suleiman Faidhi played a major role in opposition, demanding reforms in the Arab Territories under Ottoman rule and achieving the demand for the use of Arabic as the official language in legal procedures in all Arab Territories, thus replacing Judges who did not speak it.
When the Ottoman State declared war against the Allies at the end of 1914, the British were preparing to land in Basra. The leadership of the Reform Society decided that Sayyid Talib Pasha and Suleiman Faidhi should leave for Najid. Both knew that they faced execution if the Turkish army arrived. They also knew that they would face an unknown fate if the British landed first, as Sayyid Talib and his party had refused to cooperate in assisting the British invasion of Basra. Talib and Faidhi aimed to call upon Ibn Saud, the ruler of Najid, to enter and occupy Basra with Talib’s help before the British were expected to land.
Ibn Saud, under British advice and through his friend Captain Shakespeare, declined their call and deliberately delayed his march towards Basra, until the British landing was accomplished. Then he mediated with the British for the safety of his friend Talib Pasha who, in agreement with Ibn Saud’s advice, requested Faidhi to go to Basra to negotiate with Sir Percy Cox (Chief Political Officer in Mesopotamia -1914) on Talib’s future. Suleiman Faidhi returned to Basra and met with Cox on December 19th and 20th 1914. The negotiation ended with Cox accepting to allow Sayyid Talib to go into self exile in India. Suleiman Faidhi was then detained by the British in 1916 for a short time. After his release, he was allowed to stay in Basra but his movements were confined to the boundaries of the city. Later in 1920, he was allowed to move to Baghdad, where he was appointed as the senior Judge at the Court of Appeal and a lecturer at the School of Law which was just opened mainly due to Faidhi’s efforts.
T E Lawrence visited Basra in April 1916 to meet two Arab nationalist leaders and to select one of them to start an Arab revolt against the Turks in southern Iraq. The objective was to relieve the pressure on General Townshend and his 17000 men who were under siege by Turkish troops in Kut. He met with Faidhi who did not respond to Lawrence’s demands. Two months later, on 10th June 1916, the Arab Revolt started in Hijaz.
In 1920, the British authoritiees, in an effort to prevent an armed revolt against its occupation, decided to set up a committee comprised of former members of the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies(al Maboothan) to agree the procedures by which elections would be held for a general assembly in Iraq. However, Suleiman Faidhi, who was then the leader of the secret “Al-Ahd Al Iraqi” party, was considered by the British, together with Naji Shawkat and Mozahim al Pachachi, to be the extremist elements in the committee. At the same period, Faidhi had a confrontation with Miss Gertrude Bell(British Oriental Secretary, acting as liaison with the forthcoming Arab government), when she accused him of siding with the armed revolt against the British. The revolt did take place and resulted in the British declaring Iraq an independent state.
Faidhi declined a request to join the first national cabinet in 1921 as he anticipated the conflicts he would have with the policies set according to the British plans for Iraq then. The lack of cooperation the British continued to receive from Faidhi made them wary and suspicious of him. He continued to believe that the new political structure and its institutions created by the British, were not free and democratic as was promised. This disillusionment led him to retreat from the political scene in Iraq in 1923, where the British domination and influence continued to be very effective. After a short period in Arabstan, where he was the advisor to its ruler, Sheikh Khaz'al, he returned to Basra and devoted himself to promoting cultural, charitable and national causes in addition to his work as a lawyer. He died in Baghdad on January 19th 1951.
His published works covered literature, law, politics and his memoirs. The memoirs, first published in 1952, proved to be a useful record for researchers in Iraq’s political, cultural and social events, mainly for the period of 1900 to the creation of the State in 1921.
In 1997, and in recognition of Suleiman Faidhi’s important role in the history leading to the formation of modern Iraq, the Faculty of History at the University of Basra decided to embark on a postgraduate research on the life of Suleiman Faidhi and his influence on the political, cultural and social developments in Iraq. The research thesis was later published in 2003.
Suleiman Faidhi had a deep understanding of the sufferings of the less fortunate. He dedicated much of his time to help alleviate and improve the lives of fellow Iraqis.
Established the first Arabic newspaper, al-Iqadh (The Awakening), in the Arabic language in Basra in May 1909. The paper gained subscribers in neighbouring Arab lands, Indian subcontinent and Singapore. As a journalist, Suleiman Faidhi wrote articles about critical political issues and social concerns. He questioned government decisions and tackled many issues of injustice and oppression. He called for reforms and openly criticized those in power, exposing himself to threats and intimidations.
Created the first Arabic school, Tithkar al-Horria (Freedom Rememberence), in Basra in 1908.
Lobbied for and succeeded in a ruling for the fairness in salaries of female teachers in 1909.
Lobbied for and succeeded in the reestablishment of the main girls' school in Basra in 1909.
Created a school to teach Turkish language in Basra in 1910 to assist Iraqi government employees.
In December 1911, with the support of the main opposition political party in Basra, he succeeded in stopping the plans to close the School of Law in Baghdad.
As a representative in the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies he lobbied for and succeeded in the establishment of a school in Basra in 1914.
Took an active part in the reopening of the College of Law in Baghdad after the British Occupation in 1919. And as a lecturer in the College, he published three books in Law and Constitutional Rights in the Arabic language for the College students.
Established the Tafayoudh High school in Baghdad in 1919.
Was one of the three members of the Supreme Educational Council in Baghdad in 1921 with Sati al Husri and Maarof al Rasafi.
Instigated and secured the creation of the first girls' school in al-Karkh, Baghdad in 1922.
In 1918, established Altajadud Library, the first public library in Basra. The Library acquired thousands of books and became a centre for conferences and meetings of Iraqi intellectuals where Suleiman Faidhi himself gave a number of lectures.
After passing his exams at the College of Law in Istanbul in June 1911, he returned to Basra and founded the first Law firm in Basra in 1911. In addition to the practice of law, the firm was prominently used as a base for the administration of many of his fund raising charities, campaigns to raise awareness, and for organising many political, cultural, educational and patriotic activities.
Chamber of Deputies
Representing Basra in Majlis al Maboothan (the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies) in 1912 and again in 1914, he was instrumental in getting Iraqi voices heard. Amongst many other issues, he lobbied for the creation of a largely Arab provisional government in Iraq and for the use of Arabic language in schools, administration, court and government.
Member of Parliament
As member in the Iraqi Parliament in Baghdad in 1935, he succeeded in promoting a large number of social, cultural and educational projects.
First Judge of the first Civil Court in Basra in 1915.
The senior Judge of the Court of Appeal in Baghdad in 1919.
Lobbied for and succeeded in the establishment of a principal hospital in Basra in 1918.
Donated all the proceeds from his play, al-Riwaya al-Iqadhia, to the Ahly Hospital in Basra in 1919.
Care Home for the Elderly
Established Basra’s Care Home for the Elderly in 1941, personally funding it until managing to collect enough contributions from fellow lawyers to turn it into a fully functioning establishment. Basra council was overwhelmed by this humanitarian act and later took responsibility for the administration and funding of this institution.
Red Cross & Red Crescent
Contributed to the creation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent in Basra in 1914.
With the support of King Faisal, he created the “Islamic Orphanage” in Baghdad in 1922 and chaired its committee. His work on the large campaign to collect funds for it subsequently resulted in establishing it as the most significant shelter for the orphans and a functioning school in Iraq. The Orphanage enjoyed the financial backing and continuous support from the Christian Community, while the well known Jewish Iraqi Minahaim Danial paid the 1000 Golden Liras needed to erect, equip and furnish the modern buildings of the Orphanage in Baghdad.
Established a charity-funded industrial school, Muqadamat al-Taraqqi, in Baghdad in 1909 to help train orphans and children from poor families.
Headed a charitable organisation for the care and protection of orphans in Basra in 1941.
Suleiman Faidhi 1935 Member of the Iraqi Parliment
al-Ikadh (The Awakening) 1909 First Arabic Newspaper in Basra
Gulf Arab Unity
One of the founding members of the commission for Gulf Arab unity in 1938 which called for the unification of the Emirates for the common benefit.
Created the commission for Iraqi elections in 1920. As an active member, he gave bold speeches pressing for the demands of the nation.
Created and assisted the formation of a number of political parties, including, Hizb al-Hur al-Mu'tadl, the Moderate Liberal Party, Iraq’s first opposition party in Basra 1911. Later he was a founder member of the Liberty and Union Party followed by the Reform Society in February 1914.
Created the first Arab Patriotic society in Mosul in 1913.
Elected President of “al Ahd” party in 1919. The Party was dissolved in 1920 when the Iraqi Revolution started.
Head of the Basra committee for al-Akhaa Party between 1930-1936.
Headed the commission for the support of Palestinian victims after the 1948 partition. Worked on a large campaign to gather funds and to send aid to help relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people.
Chamber of Trades
An active administrative member in the Iraqi Chamber of Trades. Resigned after six years in 1948 due to ill health.
Culture & Science
Succeeded in starting the Cultural and Scientific Society in Basra in April 1910 which contributed largely to the creation of a widely spread literary and cultural movement.
Headed the administration of the Institute of Science in Baghdad in 1921, an establishment for thinkers, journalists and authors.
An administrative member in the society for Modern Literature in Basra in 1921.
Agriculture & Local Affairs
Established the Royal Agricultural society in Basra in 1928. Sought funding for, and then headed a project to irrigate large areas of land deprived of water. The project was inaugurated by King Faisal of Iraq and benefited a substantial number of farmers around the Basra region.
Elected as a representative for the Ministry of Economy in 1940 to the Society for the Cultivation of Dates. Resigned after objecting to co-operate with the British disagreeing with a deal harming Iraqi farm owners.
An active adviser in the administration of Basra in 1918. His responsibilities included building of schools, selecting teachers and implementation of housing and other council projects.
Appointed as the head of an emergency relief commission for the victims of the Basra floods in 1946.
Other Humanitarian Work
Created and headed society for the creation of hospitals and schools in the rural areas around Basra in 1936.
An active member in the society for the Protection on children in Basra in 1914.
Created and headed a chairty for helping Muslims in need in Basra in 1916. In addition to lobbying for funds, he donated all the proceeds from one of his books for this project.
Created and headed a charity for helping in the education of Muslim youth in Basra in 1929.
Suleiman Faidhi 1914 Representative for Basra in the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies
Suleiman Faidhi 1938 On a family holiday to Lebanon
A comprehensive historical record detailing a turbulent period that led to the creation of the state of Iraq.
It depicts a period of struggle for Iraq’s political independence and details events that formed the first national government.
The author described a journey of struggle to gain Iraq's political independence. He detailed a history
of resistance against colonial powers and the events that led to the creation of modern Iraq.
The book also includes:
The creation of the first political parties in Basra (1911-1914), their actions and achievements.
The bold stances taken against the nationalistic Turkish Itihadeen party (Committee of Union and Progress) in Istanbul.
Detailed accounts and discussions with influential political figures before and after the First World War.
The author’s alliance with Talib al-Naqeeb (patriarch of Basra) and the negotiations that took place with Sir Percy Cox, the then British High Commissioner and a major figure in the creation of modern Iraq.
The socio-political climate in Basra after the British occupation.
The author’s negotiations in April 1916 with Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence who was sent on a special mission by the British government to start an Arab revolt against the Turks in south of Iraq. The author refused Lawrence’s request to start and lead the revolt.
His detention in December 1916 for refusing to cooperate with the British. After his release he was restricted not to leave the boundaries of the town of Basra until 1919.
The situation in Baghdad and the division of opinion in 1920 - Events leading to the creation of the commission for Iraqi election, the revolt of 1920 and the subsequent crowning of prince Faisal as the first king of modern Iraq.
As the adviser to Sheikh Khaz’al, the ruler of the former emirate of Arabistan (currently the province of Khuzestan in Iran), the author describes the emirate, its glory, eventual fall and the subsequent exile of Sheikh Khaz’al to Tehran.
Detailed accounts of the events leading to the formation of the first Iraqi national government, his opposition to the signing of the 1930 treaty which lead to sending him into exile for three months. His election to the Iraqi parliament in 1935 and the events leading to the first military coup in 1936.
Dr. Abdulhamid Faidhi (Suleiman Faidhi’s elder son) compiled and edited these memoirs in 1952 one year after his father’s death. He then produced a revised edition in 1974.
In 1998, Mr. Basil Faidhi (Suleiman Faidhi’s youngest son) compiled and edited the current comprehensive version.
Key events in the political life of Suleiman Faidhi
Lawrence in Iraq
Lawrence in Basra
Meeting Miss G.Bell
Letters from Baghdad
Lawrence in Iraq
The Memoirs of Suleiman Faidhi, include a special chapter on the arrival of Captain Lawrence to Basra and the details of the discussions they had in the two meetings he had with him.
Because of the very sensitive nature of the real purpose behind Lawrence’s arrival, the Basra trip was kept secret. Very Few correspondence and other records relating to it were found.
Suleiman Faidhi serialised his discussions with Captain Lawrence in “The Voice of Iraq” newspaper of “Al-Nahdha Party”, issues 55 to 62, between the 11th and 18th November 1929.
The exact text was later included in his memoirs when first published in 1952.
The Circumstances Surrounding Lawrence’s Arrival
In 1915, after the occupation of Basra and most part of southern Iraq, General Charles Townshend, commanded a division that advanced north towards Baghdad hoping to capture the town of Kut which was within the Turkish held territory. Kut was occupied in September 1915, but Townshend’s 17,000 men were later kept under siege by reinforced Turkish troops. By March 1916, because of the very serious shortage of food and no chance of relief, Townshend was considering surrender to the Turkish Commander Khalil Pasha.
To avoid surrender, Kitchener (1) believed that by creating disruption behind Turkish lines, the pressure on Townshend could be relieved, enabling him to retreat from Kut. Also to ease the retreat, a bribe to buy the cooperation of the Turkish Commanders was to be offered. Kitchener’s scheme also included General Aziz Ali Al Masri's (2) plan in starting an Arab revolt against the Turks in Mesopotamia. Sir Henry McMahon (3) was made responsible for the follow up of the scheme and Lawrence was chosen to go to Basra to seek the needed local Arab co-operation, he was also in charge of the secret £1,000,000 bribery project (4).
[see telegram dated 29.3.1916 from Sir W R Robertson (5) to Sir P H N Lake (6) and the instructions dated 26.3.1916 from Sir Wyndham Deedes (7) to Lawrence]
Lawrence arrived in Basra on April 5th. He was to be joined later, once the cooperation of the man he was to meet in Basra was secured, by Aziz Al Masri, Nori Said and others who will use their influence in attracting Arab officers in the Turkish army to desert and join the Arab revolt.
On his arrival, Lawrence met with Sir Percy Cox (8) who was against the visit of Aziz Al Masri and others, but was keen that Lawrence would individually and immediately meet with the person Cox had selected. As for the bribery project, he was totally against it. In his telegram to Col. WH Beach (9), dated 7.4.1916, Cox wrote :
“ The project in view is pretty sure to become known sooner or later specially if it proves unsuccessful and I can not afford as a political officer of the government of India to be identified with it".
“I explained the above point of view to Captain Lawrence and informed him that I was ready to give to Captain J C More (10), the names of the individuals who might be ready to cooperate, and that Captain More could send for them to his private house where Lawrence could interview them. His idea when coming here was to utilise Seyyid Talib(11), which is out of the question as he is in Madras, or one of his former confederates of whom there are two or three in Basra. He has seen them at More’s house and without telling them precisely what they were wanted for, he had long talks with both of them, but both have failed to come to scratch on the ground that the risks were too great. There is no one else now here… whom it would be in the least possible to induce to take on the business. Had either… or… agreed to cooperate, it was Lawrence’s intention to take him up with him to (advance) H.Q. and not discuss the specific project until they reached there (11).”
General Sir P H N Lake (12) summarised the result of Lawrence’s mission to Basra in his telegraph to Sir W R Robertson (13) dated 16.4.1916 :
“Personal & Most Secret
Captain Lawrence reached my camp yesterday. The only channel which has appeared to give any prospect of being found practicable is the employment of Sayid Talib, late Nakib of Basra. Lawrence on his way here through Basra discreetly sounded Suleiman Feizi (14), who is a former confidential agent of Talib’s, and also sounded another of Talib’s old entourage, but found that both were too nervous to give any prospect of their acting by themselves. Neither they nor any of the prisoners of war or deserters who are now in our charge are suitable for employment as intermediaries, for they are not men of sufficient standing, and no Turkish general would dare entertain such an offer if it reached him through an unsubstantial individual. Finally, neither Khalil’s personality nor Ali Nejib’s opportunities at this late hour in my opinion give the slightest hope of the success of the overtures suggested and their failure would be calamitous to our prestige.
I propose nevertheless to avail myself of the services of Captain Lawrence for a short time for liaison purposes as affecting Egypt and Mesopotamia, and for work in connection with any opportunity that may arise for alienating from Turks and likely Arab elements in the Turkish army. In this latter connection, please instruct me definitely as to the political promises which Masri was to be authorised to make to the Arab soldiery… and inform me as to whether such promises are still permissible (15).”
On April 29th, 1916, Townshend surrendered unconditionally. About 12,000 soldiers were held captive, no more than quarter ever returned.
Lawrence left Basra on May 11th, 1916, back to Cairo
The instructions from W H Deeds to T E Lawrence 26.3.1916
(Unsigned copy in FO 882/15 fos-68-9)
"Without going into the details of the various telegrams which have passed between here and the War Office… they (W.O) are apparently quite convinced that the time has come to put the whole scheme into operation… I have within the last two or three days had interviews with Azziz, Nuri [as-Said], Faroki, Hassan Khaled and Dr.Shahbander, and, without referring to the particular case now under review, with Sheikh Reshid Riza. In my first interview with Azziz, I found him just a little bit difficult. I said that we were not prepared today to do more than give general assurances concerning Arab independence. Azziz then tried to go into details and wished to pin me down to some detailed convention. The following day I saw the Colonel [Calyton] who said “you had better put the matter plainly before them and say that we do not intend to tie ourselves down to any details as to our future relations with such Arab government as is brought into existence in Iraq until we have had an opportunity of seeing what the nature of that government is and how far it is in a position to carry out such assurances as it may give us.” In a word for your own information, please note that we refuse to discuss with this party today any other consideration but a simple promise to do all we can to help Arab independence. As a result of various meetings it was finally agreed that the party should go off at first available opportunity to join you at Basra. Such party will probably consist of the following : - Azziz ( the War Office were against Azziz or of his going to extremes, he is sound enough but wants a little checking). 2. will be Nouri. Nouri should help you considerably for as you know he is very moderate; but please note in this connection that he has not got the complete confidence of Azziz. I do not mean to say that Azziz mistrusts him, but… he thinks he is rather young and not quite big enough to be fully trusted with a matter of this sort. 3. will be Dr Shahbander whom the Colonel looks on as our sheet anchor. Hang onto him for all you are worth and work the others as far as possible through him. At least that is my opinion and I am sure you won’t mind my giving you this advice.”
Telegram : Sir W R Robertson (Chief, London) to Sir P H N Lake (GOC Force D)
(Telegram 14895, 29.3.1916 Cairo text FO 882/13 fo.279)
“Most secret and for yourself personally. Captain Lawrence is due at Basra about the 30th March from Egypt to consult with you and if possible
purchase one of the Turkish leaders of the Mesopotamia Army, such as Khalil or Negib [Ali Nejib, Khalil’s subordinate, was commander of the Turkish forces
besieging Kut] so as to facilitate the relief of Townshend. You are authorised to expend for this purpose any sum not exceeding one million pounds. As no suitable
native was immediately available, Lawrence is to proceed alone, but perhaps a suitable go-between can be found in Basra. Subsequently and independently the
High Commissioner, Egypt, has suggested to the Foreign Office the utility of negotiating with Arab elements in the Turkish Army with a view to detaching them from the
Turks and making them side with the Arab movement. Masri, Dr Shahbandeh and another Arab officer will probably be sent to Mesopotamia for this purpose, but may
arrive too late to coordinate and make the fullest use of the two efforts. High Commissioner, Egypt, will have informed Masri, or will inform him through you, of the political promises he is
authorised to make to the Arab elements in the Turkish Army.”
Field-Marshal H H Kitchener – British Minister of Defense
Distinguished figure in the Young Turks movement. Founder of Al Ahd, the secret Arab Nationaist Party
British High Commissioner in Cairo – 1915
J Wilson Lawrence of Arabia, 1989,pp 259
Chief of Imperial General Staff – 1916
General Commander of British Forces in Iraq
Chief of Intelligence - Cairo
Chief Political Officer in Mesopotamia – 1914
Head of Intelligence IEF(D)
Head of the Military Intelligence Staff in Basra
PP Graves – The Life of Sir Percy Cox, 1941, pp200-1
Commander IEF (D0)
Chief of Imperial General Staff – 1916
IG 2508 Houghton b MS Eng 1252(372), later sent on 18.4.1916 to the British High Commissioner in Cairo under reference FO 141/736/2475-15548 Cipher MI
Lawrence in Basra
Translated from the original Arabic Text, Chapter 9, The Memoirs of Suleiman Faidhi, first published in 1952. Prior to that, the contents of this chapter were serialized in eight issues of “The Voice of Iraq” newspaper of “al-Nahdha Party”, issues 55 to 62, between the 11th and 18th of November 1929.
After I had completed my parliamentary duty in the Ottoman parliament, I returned to Basra in August 1914. Days after my arrival, war broke out between the Ottoman State and Great Britain.
Prior to the occupation of al Fao by the British army, I had travelled to Kuwait then to Najd accompanying the late Sayid Talib Pasha al Naqeeb, Chairman of the Decentralized Reformation Society, of which I was the General Secretary. I returned back from Najd to Basra after the British had occupied Basra. I had negotiated with Sir Percy Cox to allow Sayid Talib Pasha to travel to Bombay and to stay there free and respected during the period of the war. After three long sessions of negotiations, Sir Percy Cox accepted my demand and handed me all the required documents such as passport etc. I sent a letter to Talib Pasha and another to Prince Abdul Aziz al Sa`ud (his majesty King of Hejaz and Najd now) in which I explained the result of my negotiations and what official commitment and promise I have obtained from Sir Percy Cox. I asked Talib Pasha to come to Kuwait.
A few days later I received a letter from the above mentioned prince (King of Hejaz and Najd) in which he thanked and appreciated the efforts I had exerted to realize
the wish of Sayid Talib Pasha. I received another letter from Sayid Talib telling me that he was on his way to Kuwait. I travelled to Kuwait where I met him and
handed him the needed documents. When his ship was about to sail, I bade him farewell and returned to Basra.
After a short time later, I opened an office for trading in Basra. At about nine o’clock in the morning of 7th April 1916 (4th Jumada the Second, 1334) and as I was sitting in my office, two men entered; one of them was Elias Yelda a local resident of Basra and a young Egyptian man whom I did not know. After they had greeted me they handed me a letter, the contents of which were the following:
Basra, 7th April, 1916 To His Excellency the most honourable, Suleiman
Faidhi Effendi Esq.
May God make your days happy. Would you please honour us with your presence at our office today at no. 6 Darb el-A`waj road
in al `Ashaar for a meeting. May you remain blessed.
Military Intelligence Bureau. J.C. More, Capt. General staff, Intelligence
I was astonished by the invitation because I had not been acquainted with the undersigned Capt. More, (Major More, Consul of Great Britain in Kuwait later) and I did not have any relation with any part of the occupying authority. I had the right to be suspicious of the purpose of an invite in such critical circumstances where a man could be taken from his house and sent into exile despite not committing a single crime or having had any political involvement. One word from a spy was enough for the authorities to send a person into exile. Thus were the circumstances in which hundreds of innocent people were humiliated and exiled having perpetrated no sin nor committed any crime but were victims of jealousy, and hypocrisy or similar motivation.
I turned to the two messengers and asked them to go before me, promising them that I would be there in a short time, as soon as my carriage was ready. They refused and told me that their orders were to accompany me.
I took a few banknotes out of my safe, put them in my pocket, whispered to my clerk about where I was going and told him to keep the matter secret for the moment, but if I did not return in the afternoon, then to consider me as detained and tell my family and friends.
I went along with them with a troubled mind. When we left my office, the two messengers told me that they had been ordered by Capt. More to treat me with the utmost respect. We took the carriage to al `Ashaar and on arrival I tried to pay the fare but they insisted on paying it themselves, telling me that the Captain had given them the fare already and they should obey his order.
We arrived to a narrow lane near the bridge road in al `Ashaar where we stopped in front of an old house. I entered with both men not knowing what was ahead of me, as I had not understood the meaning of this invitation, nor the instruction of Capt. More to treat me respectfully. I remembered few months earlier, the military authority had searched my house and confiscated some of my documents (they returned them later) after I had received similar respect from Major Grayson, Chief of the Police at that time, who expressed his wish to visit me for tea, the same day he gave orders to search my house. Thus, the apparent friendly feelings were an introduction to the search, and this new respect may have been of similar nature.
We went up to the second floor where they entered a room while I waited outside. A moment later an officer came out of that room who, I found out afterwards, that it was Captain More himself. He received me cordially and led me into the room. There I saw another staff captain, a handsome man with a wide relaxed smile. Captain More introduced us to each other: “this is Captain Lawrence who asked me to arrange this special meeting which, I think, is very serious and important”. Lawrence stepped forward and shook my hand in a really friendly way. He went on welcoming me, expressing his longing to get acquainted with me and his eagerness for this meeting, all in a perfect Egyptian dialect, with hardly a trace of foreign accent. The three of us sat at the table.
The young officer stood up, offering me a cigarette, and lit it for me. He started to talk to me gently with soft tender words, repeatedly expressing his friendly feelings, asking about my health and business. Every so often he would apologize again for inconveniencing me with this meeting. He was exaggerating in employing the word sir. He ordered some coffee for me, when it arrived he stood up, took the cup himself, and placed it in front of me. I answered his questions briefly and carefully trying to find out a reasonable explanation for his friendly behaviour, as it is unexpected from an officer of an occupying force to show such courtesy and deference to a citizen from a recently occupied country.
I tried hard to remember if I had known this officer before. I couldn’t remember and felt certain that this officer had mistaken me for someone else.
I asked him how he learned Arabic so perfectly. He answered that he grew up in the Arab lands and he loved the Arabs.
The officer then addressed Captain More in English of which I understood that he asked him to leave the room. More left the room and closed the door behind him, leaving us alone in the room.
This officer was Captain T. E. Lawrence. The Arab Revolution in Hejaz had not yet started. I knew nothing about Lawrence. His activities and contacts in Hejaz and the Arab Peninsula had been secretly carried out before the outbreak of the Revolution. Lawrence’s reputation, his mysterious affairs, and courageous adventures became public after the above mentioned Revolution on 10th June 1916 (9th Sha’baan 1334), two months after I met him.
Now that we were alone, the following conversation took place, which I am going to relate it exactly as it happened. If it differs from the actual, it is in words and not in meaning. For convenience, I will refer to the name of Captain Lawrence in the conversation with the letter ‘L’ and to myself with the letter ‘S’.
I arrived from Egypt this morning and my aim was to meet you personally. For this I asked to meet you immediately.
Thank you, and please forgive me if I ask you whether we have met before, because I do not remember that?
No, we have not met. Yet I know you and know all your activities.
How do you know me and what activities do you mean?
I know you very well. Please tell me about the state of the al `Ahd society.
There is no society here, not al `Ahd nor any other. I haven’t heard of any society in Basra since the occupation.
Don’t hide anything from me, because I know everything.
Be sure that there is no trace of it or of any other society at the time being. As for me personally, I have no relations of this kind at the present time. I am busy with my own business and do not have any kind of involvement in any kind of politics.
Weren’t you in opposition to the Unionists within the Ottoman parliament before the war?
Meeting Miss G.Bell
Future of Mesopotamia. A copy of Baghdad despatch enclosing extracts from a note by Miss G.Bell recording conversation
with Suleiman Faidhi on June 12th 1920. British Foreign Office - Public Record Office reference 371/5228 - E 8915 July 27th 1920.
Extracts from a note by Miss G.Bell recording conversation with Suleiman Faidhi on June 12th 1920.
Sunday, June 13 1920
Suleiman Faidhi came to me last night and put the Arab point of view very clearly. Mr. Forbes was present. He is himself a moderate; he wishes to see an Arab Government, under a British mandate – incidentally, like so many of them, he dislikes Wusayah as the translation of Mandate and prefers Himayah. I am under the impression that I learnt the term Wusayah from the Arabs themselves, first in Syria and then here.
Miss G.Bell recording conversation with Suleiman Faidhi Memo July 27th 1920
However the name is not the important thing as far as we are concerned, but the meaning and scope which are attached to the word Mandate however translated.
Suleiman developed his argument thus:-
That since you took Baghdad you have been talking about an Arab Government, but 3 years and more have elapsed and nothing materializes.
You gave us an explanation that you could do nothing until the peace with Turkey has been signed, but, so far as we know, that may be months or even years ahead; secondly you say that you could not do anything until the mandate had been granted you. That explanation does not carry conviction because we have seen an independent Arab Government set up in Syria before any western power had received the mandate. ( I have been thinking over the last point and I confess I find it difficult to find any reply to it but one and that one far from satisfactory. It is that Allied Powers were obliged to recognise and independent Arab Government in Syria because the Syrian forced them to do so. Whatever the Sykes Picot or other statements may say to the contrary, there can be little doubt that France would not have recognised Faisal as Emir of a self-governing State if she had been in a position to do otherwise. The weakness of this reply lies in the fact that an obvious report is open to the Arabs of Mesopotamia “If the Syrians won their independence by force why should not we do the same? We intend to try”. Though I think that Suleiman Faidhi and many like him are very much averse from trying to use force, because they don’t think it a good way of setting up stable government, my impression is that they find it very difficult to counter this line of reasoning conscientiously. I now return to the general agreement.)
You said in your declaration that you would set up a Native government drawing its authority from the initiative and free choice of the people concerned, yet you proceed to draw up a scheme without consulting any one. It would have been easy for you to have taken one or two leading men into your counsels and this would have removed the reproach which is levelled against your scheme, whether the scheme itself is good or bad. You say that it is your intention to give the people full opportunity of discussing the scheme, but I reply that that wasn’t the best way to reach an amicable solution. You have antagonized them by not asking a few well known men to help you in drawing it up. Your scheme is already in everyone’s hands. I myself have what I believe to be a full and complete copy of it and practically everyone in Baghdad who cares to have a copy has got one. We do not like it at all; we think it contains a great number of quite unacceptable provisions. I will give you an example since you ask for one. We should not agree to the President of the Council being appointed by the Government. We hold it essential that he should be chosen by the Council.
If this or something closely resembling this- for I cannot be certain that the copy I possess is verbally accurate- is what is going to be presented to us, I can tell you from the outset that it will not give satisfaction. Would it then be admissible to send a deputation to England, to put our views before the British Government? You ask me if I think they would go and I reply yes. I think they would and I am myself of opinion that this is the best solution.
You cannot let things go on as at present. The agitation is taking dangerous proportions. I very much fear open disturbance, not perhaps in Baghdad but in the provinces, for all the tribes are affected. I have the greatest desire to avoid this both for our sake and yours. I regard the meetings in the mosques with abhorrence. I look up on the combination of religion and politics as specially dangerous for it is almost impossible for me or anyone else to stand up against it. It would be much better if the people were to hold similar meetings or form clubs for discussions, so as to divorce religion and politics as far as may be.
There is another point which I wish to press up on you strongly. It is that you would be well advised to give us a long rope. We cannot possibly run the country without your assistance and advice and we shall come to you at once for both if you don’t try to force us to do so. It is my belief that you cannot force us, but if you act now with care and consideration you will never need to try.
Sd/- G. L. Bell
Letters from Baghdad
A recent film about the life of Ms Gertrude Bell included an interview with Suleiman Faidhi.
Books and Publications
wrote a total of thirteen books, eleven of them were published. In all his books, he chronicled important periods in the history of modern Iraq, containing a depiction of a life of struggle for Iraq's independence and enlightenment.
The books also contain many accounts of actual political and social events, poetry, encyclopaedic information, travels, and the first modern Iraqi play with a direct message for promoting learning and upholding the values of education. Three of the books were on the topic of law and constitutional rights. These were educational books used in the training of students at the first Law college in 1920 in Baghdad.
Suleiman Faidhi wrote an extensive amount of lectures, research papers, articles, speeches and poems. He often delivered them at political functions, cultural events, and official engagements promoting education and Arab patriotism.
During the last few months of his life, Suleiman Faidhi dictated his memoirs to his daughter Laila. He refused to spend his last days resting, commenting that recording his life’s events "helped ease the pain of his illness". After his death, his son Dr. Abdulhamid Faidhi decided that it was his duty to undertake the laborious task of collecting all the papers, notes and documents to compile and edit his father's memoirs. He published the first version in 1952 and then a second in 1974.
In 1998, with the help of newly revealed British records and the availability of further Iraqi and foreign related studies, Suleiman Faidhi’s youngest son Basil Faidhi was able
to publish a revised and comprehensive third edition of the memoirs in 1998, followed by a further print in 1999.
This book was published in 1998 with three selected works
which reflect Faidhi's vision in spreading knowledge and encouraging enlightenment. This anthology was originally written and previously published between 1911-1946.
The first is al-Tuhfa al-iqadhia fi al-Rihla al-Hijazia
(written in 1911 and published in 1913), the author, at the age of 26, recorded in detail his Hajj journey. A comprehensive description of his travel from Basra to Makkah, it contained
what at the time were rare details of places, rivers, seas, towns, villages and cities. He explained not only the geography but also specifics of trades, traditions of local people, agriculture,
industry, culture and crafts. He described political situations, style of government and types of administration of all the areas he passed in his journey. The book also contains conversations,
poetry and humour. The author recorded his observations in such a way for readers to feel as if they had accompanied him on his journey.
The second, al-Riwaya al-iqadhia (The Awakening Novel) is acknowledged to be the first Iraqi play that aimed to promote the issues of education
and enlightenment. It was also recognised as an archetype for modern Iraqi plays. During the British rule, this book was included in schools curriculum. The author also
satirised the overuse of foreign words and called for purity of Arabic language. He had intended for this book to be an inspiration for Pan Arab unity - a subject close to his
The third, al-Basra al-'Authma (The Great Basra) offers a comprehensive description of the author’s treasured Basra. He was touched by the magnificence of
the city situated on the cross roads of trade routes; its historical importance in terms of agriculture, industry, trade, architecture, literature, science, knowledge and philosophy.
His message was to inspire its restoration to achieve former glories, commenting that it "has all the elements of success". He wrote that Basra was famous for its good descent
people, known for their generosity, high ideals and standards.
This web site was created in 2010 by Dr. Faidhi Mustafa, inspired by
and in homage to the many achievements of his late grandfather, Suleiman Faidhi.
The charitable spirit to help the less fortunate and to spread education and awareness was carried on after Suleiman Faidhi’s death. His family donated his entire personal library
which consisted of thousands of books containing rare and valuable publications to the library of the ministry of Awqaf(religious endowment) in Baghdad around
ten years after his death. More recently, his son Mr. Basil Faidhi created and funded the Suleiman Faidhi Charitable Foundation. This foundation carried a number of large
charitable projects in Iraq including the building of the two Suleiman Faidhi Centres for Medical Care in the poorest parts of Baghdad suburbs in 2001 and 2002. The
foundation also financed the publication of “Nimrud, An Assyrian Imperial City Revealed” by Joan and David Oates. The book was first published in 2001 by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq.
Our work is non profitable and our intention is to lend a hand where possible to all those who have suffered under wars and difficult circumstances. Future projects
in the name of Suleiman Faidhi are under consideration including the formation of an educational training institution.
This web site is a starting point and it is anticipated that it will expand with time.
We will be more than happy to listen to your suggestions.