The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 18: The Clash with Persia

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq

 

Page: 4

Shortly after the Battle of Yamamah, Muthanna turned his attention towards Iraq. Seeking adventure and spoils, and encouraged by the disarray which was apparent in the political affairs of the Persian Empire, Muthanna took a band of his followers and began to raid into Iraq. At first he stuck to the periphery of the desert so that he could withdraw quickly into the safety of the sandy wastes, but gradually his incursions became bolder. He varied his objectives, striking now in the east, now in the west. Most of his raids, however, were in the region of Uballa, and he returned from these raids with spoils to dazzle the hungry Arab of the desert. The Persian garrisons were helpless against Muthanna's ghostlike riders, who vanished as rapidly as they struck.

Encouraged by his successes, Muthanna approached Abu Bakr. This was early in February 633 (late Dhul Qad, 11 Hijri). He painted a glowing picture-the vulnerable state of Iraq, the riches that waited to be plundered, the prolonged political crisis which bedevilled the Persian court, the inability of the Persian garrisons to fight mobile, fast-moving engagements. "Appoint me as commander of my people", said Muthanna, "and I shall raid the Persians. Thus I shall also protect our region from them." 1

The Caliph agreed and gave him a letter of authority appointing him commander over all the Muslims of the Bani Bakr. With this letter of authority Muthanna returned to North-Eastern Arabia. Here he converted more tribesmen to Islam, gathered a small army of 2,000 men and resumed his raids with even greater enthusiasm and violence.

Muthanna was gone from Madinah, but his words continued to ring in the ears of the Caliph. He had planted a seed in the mind of Abu Bakr which germinated in a few days into a decision to take Iraq. He would not fight the entire Persian Empire, for that would be too big an objective in present circumstances. He would just take the Iraq of the Arabs, which meant the region west of the Tigris. Thus he would enlarge the boundaries of Islam and spread the new faith. At home there was peace, for with the defeat of the Kinda at Fort Nujair, Islam had been re-established in the land of Arabia.

Islam is a religion of peace, but not the peace of the timid and the submissive. It believes in peace, but the peace of the just and strong. "Fight in the way of Allah", says the Quran, "against those who fight you, but do not transgress." [Quran 2:190]"And fight them until mischief is no more and religion is all for Allah."[Quran 8:39]. And so it would be war with the fire-worshipping Persians.

Abu Bakr had made up his mind to invade Iraq; but he would have to proceed with great care, for the Arab feared the Persian-with a deep, unreasoning fear which ran in the tribal consciousness as a racial complex and was the result of centuries of Persian power and glory. In return the Persian regarded the Arab with contempt. It was important not to suffer a defeat, for that would confirm and strengthen this instinctive fear. To make certain of victory, Abu Bakr decided on two measures: (a) the invading army would consist entirely of volunteers; (b) Khalid would be the commander of the army.

With this in view, he sent orders to Khalid to invade Iraq and fight the Persians. He further instructed Khalid to call to arms those who had fought the apostates and remained steadfast in their faith after the death of the Messenger of Allah, and to exclude from the expedition those who had apostatised. Finally, he added (referring to the soldiers): "Whoever wishes to return to his home may do so." 2

When Khalid announced to his troops that the Caliph had given them permission to return home if they wished to do so, he was shocked by the result: thousands of his army left the army and returned Madinah and other places whence they had come. Whereas at the Battle of Yamamah he had commanded an army of 13,000 men, he was now left with only 2,000 men. Khalid wrote in haste to the Caliph, informing him of this alarming state of affairs and asking for reinforcements. When the letter reached Abu Bakr, he was sitting among his friends and advisers. He read the letter aloud so that all present might hear what it said. Then he sent for a young stalwart by the name of Qaqa bin Amr.

1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 552.
2. Ibid: Vol. 2, p. 553.