The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 19: The Battle of Chains

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq

 

Page: 4

Chains were often used by the Persian army to link their men in battle. They were normally of four lengths, to link three, five, seven or ten men, 1 and were supposed to act as a source of strength to the army. It would not be correct to say, as some critics have suggested, that the chains were used by the officers for fear that their men would run away. The chains were used as a manifestation of suicidal courage, confirming the soldiers' willingness to die on the battlefield rather than seek safety in flight. They also lessened the danger of a breakthrough by enemy cavalry, as with the men linked together in chains it was not easy for cavalry groups to knock down a few men and create a gap for penetration. And since the Persian Army was organised and trained for the set-piece battle, this tactic enabled it to stand like a rock in the face of enemy assault. But the chains had one major drawback: in case of defeat the men were incapable of withdrawal, for then the chains acted as fetters. Men chained to fallen comrades, lost all power of movement and became helpless victims of their assailants.

It was the use of chains in this battle that gave it the name of the Battle of Chains.

The Arab auxiliaries, however, did not approve of these chains and never resorted to their use. When on this occasion the Persians chained themselves, the Arabs said, "You have bound yourselves for the enemy. Beware of doing so!" To this the Persians retorted, "We can see that you wish to be free to run!" 2

Now Khalid came out of the desert and approached the Persians. He had made up his mind to fight a battle here and now before the Persian army recovered from its fatigue. But the Muslim army had no water, and this caused some alarm among the men, who informed Khalid of their misgivings. "Dismount and unload the camels", ordered Khalid. "By my faith, the water will go to whichever army is more steadfast and more deserving." 3 Their confidence in their leader unshaken, the Muslims prepared for battle. They had not been at this for long when it began to rain, and it rained enough for the Muslims to drink their fill and replenish their water-skins.

Hormuz had deployed his army just forward of the western edge of Kazima, keeping the city covered by his dispositions. In front of the Persians stretched a sandy, scrub-covered plain for a depth of about 3 miles. Beyond the plain rose a complex of low, barren hills about 200 to 300 feet high. This range was part of the desert, running all the way to Hufair, and it was over this range that Khalid had marched to Kazima. Emerging from these hills, Khalid now moved his army into the sandy plain; and keeping his back to the hills and the desert, formed up for battle with the usual centre and wings. As commanders of the wings, he appointed Asim bin Amr (brother of Qaqa bin Amr) and Adi bin Hatim (the very tall chief of the Tayy, who has been mentioned earlier, in Part II). Some time in the first week of April 633 (third week of Muharram, 12 Hijri) began the Battle of Chains.

The battle started in grand style with a duel between the two army commanders. Hormuz was a mighty fighter, renowned in the Empire as a champion whom few would dare to meet in single combat. (In those chivalrous days no one could be a commanding general without at the same time being a brave and skilful fighter.) He urged his horse forward and halted in the open space between the two armies, though closer to his own front rank. Then he called, "Man to man! Where is Khalid?" 4 From the Muslim ranks Khalid rode out and stopped a few paces from Hormuz. The two armies watched in silence as these redoubtable champions prepared to fight it out.

Hormuz dismounted, motioning to Khalid to do the same. Khalid dismounted. This was brave of Hormuz, for a dismounted duel left little chance of escape; but on this occasion Hormuz was not being as chivalrous as one might imagine. Before coming out of the Persian ranks Hormuz had picked a few of his stalwarts and placed them in the front rank near the site which he had chosen for the duel. He instructed them as follows: he would engage Khalid in single combat; at the appropriate time he would call to the men; they would then dash out, surround the combatants and kill Khalid while Hormuz held him. The chosen warriors watched intently as the two generals dismounted. They felt certain that Khalid would not get away.

1. Tabari: Vol. 3, p. 206. According to Abu Yusuf (p. 33) the chain lengths were: five, seven, eight and 10 men.
2. Ibid: Vol. 2, p. 555.
3. Ibid.
4. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 555.