The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 21: The Hell of Walaja

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


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Bahman moved on a separate route to Andarzaghar's. From Ctesiphon he marched south, between the two rivers, making directly for Walaja. But he left Ctesiphon several days after the first army, and his movement was slower.

The Battle of the River had been a glorious victory. With few casualties to themselves, the Muslims had shattered a large Persian army and acquired a vast amount of booty. But the battle left Khalid in a more thoughtful mood; and only now did he begin to appreciate the immensity of the resources of the Persian Empire. He had fought two bloody battles with two separate Persian armies and driven them mercilessly from the battlefield, but he was still only on the fringes of the Empire. The Persians could field many armies like the ones he had fought at Kazima and the River.

It was a sobering thought. And Khalid was on his own. He was the first Muslim commander to set out to conquer alien lands. He was not only the military commander but also the political head, and as such had to govern, on behalf of the Caliph in Madinah, all the territories conquered for Islam. There was no superior to whom he could turn for guidance in matters of politics and administration. Moreover, his men were not as fresh as on the eve of Kazima. They had marched long and fast and fought hard, and were now feeling more than a little tired. Khalid rested his army for a few days.

By now Khalid had organised an efficient network of intelligence agents. The agents were local Arabs who were completely won over by the generous treatment of the local population by Khalid, which contrasted strikingly with the harshness and arrogance of the imperial Persians. Consequently they had thrown in their lot with the Muslims and kept Khalid apprised of the affairs of Persia and the movements of Persian forces. These agents now informed him of the march of Andarzaghar from Ctesiphon; of the large Arab contingents which joined him; of his picking up the survivors of Qarin's army; of his movement towards Walaja. They also brought word of the movement towards Walaja. They also brought word of the march of the second army under Bahman from Ctesiphon and its movement in a southerly direction. As more intelligence arrived, Khalid realised that the two Persian armies would shortly meet and then either bar his way south of the Euphrates or advance to fight him in the region of Uballa. The Persians would be in such overwhelming strength that there could be no possibility of his engaging in a successful battle. Khalid had to get to Hira, and Walaja was smack on his route.

Another point that worried Khalid was that too many Persians were escaping from one battle to fight another day. The survivors of Kazima had joined Qarin and fought at the River. The survivors of the River had joined Andarzaghar and were now moving towards Walaja. If he was to have a sporting chance of defeating all the armies that faced him, he would have to make sure that none got away from one battle to join the army preparing for the next.

These then were the two problems that faced Khalid. The first was strategical: two Persian armies were about to combine to oppose him. To this problem he found a masterly strategical solution, i.e. to advance rapidly and fight and eliminate one army (Andarzaghar's) before the other army (Bahman's) arrived on the scene. The second problem was tactical: how to prevent enemy warriors escaping from one battle to fight another. To this he found a tactical solution which only a genius could conceive and only a master could implement-but more of this later.

Khalid gave instructions to Suwaid bin Muqarrin to see to the administration of the conquered districts with his team of officials, and posted a few detachments to guard the lower Tigris against possible enemy crossings from the north and east and to give warning of any fresh enemy forces coming from those directions. With the rest of the army-about 15,000 men-he set off in the direction of Hira, moving at a fast pace along the south edge of the great marsh.

If Andarzaghar had been given the choice, he would undoubtedly have preferred to wait for the arrival of Bahman before fighting a decisive battle with the Muslims. But Andarzaghar was not given the choice. A few days before Bahman was expected, the Muslim army appeared over the eastern horizon and camped a short distance from Walaja. However, Andarzaghar was not worried. He had a large army of Persians and Arabs and felt confident of victory. He did not even bother to withdraw to the river bank, a mile away, so that he could use the river to guard his rear. He prepared for battle at Walaja.