The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 24: Anbar and Ain-ut-Tamr

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


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After Ain at-Tamr, when Ayadh wrote to Khalid requesting reinforcements, Khalid wrote back,
"Wait a while: there will come to you mounts
Carrying lions in shining armour,
Battalions followed by battalions."

The portion of Central Iraq lying between the Euphrates and the Tigris, below Ctesiphon, was now under Muslim control. The inactivity of the Persians confirmed Khalid's belief that Ctesiphon was no longer in a position to interfere with his operations, let alone pose a threat to his base at Hira or his communications with the desert. Hence Khalid turned his attention to the north, where his forces had not yet ventured. There were two places which offered a likelihood of opposition-Anbar and Ain-ut-Tamr, both manned by sizable Persian garrisons and Arab warriors who would resist the advance of the Muslims. Both were governed by Persian officers. (See Map 10.)

Khalid decided to take Anbar first. This was an ancient fortified town and commercial centre to which trade caravans came from Syria and Persia. It was also famous for its large granaries. At the end of June 633 (middle of Rabi-ul-Akhir, 12 Hijri) Khalid marched from Hira with half his army (about 9,000 men), leaving behind a strong garrison at Hira and several detachments in Central Iraq. Moving along the west bank of the Euphrates, he crossed the river somewhere below Anbar. As his scouts moved out eastwards to keep the approaches from Ctesiphon under observation, he moved the army to Anbar and laid siege to the town. The Muslims found that the town was protected not only by the walls of the fort, but also by a deep moat filled with water. The moat was within close bow?range of the wall so that those attempting to cross it would have to face accurate fire from archers on the walls. The bridges over the moat had been destroyed at the approach of the Muslims. 2

Anbar was the chief town of the district of Sabat, which lay between the two rivers west of Ctesiphon. In Anbar resided the governor of Sabat, a man named Sheerzad who was known more for his intellect and learning than his military ability. Sheerzad was now faced with the task of defending the fort against a Muslim army with the forces under his command-the Persian garrison and a large number of Arab auxiliaries in whom apparently he had little faith.

The day after his arrival Khalid moved up to examine the defences of the fort. On top of the wall he saw thousands of Persians and Arabs standing around carelessly in groups, looking at the Muslims as if watching a tournament. Amazed at this sight, Khalid remarked, "I see that these people know nothing about war." 2

He collected 1,000 archers-the best of his marksmen-and explained his plan. They would move up casually to the edge of the moat with bows ready, but arrows not fitted. At his command they would instantly fit arrows to their bows and fire salvo after salvo at the garrison. "Aim at the eyes", Khalid told the archers. "Nothing but the eyes!" 4

The detachment of archers moved towards the fort. The crowds standing on the wall gaped at the archers, wondering what they would do next. When the archers had got to the moat, Khalid gave the order, and 1,000 swift missiles flew across the moat, followed by another 1,000 and yet another. In a few seconds the garrison had lost 1,000 eyes. A clamour went up in the town: "The eyes of the people of Anbar are lost!" As a result of this action the Battle of Anbar is also known as the Battle of the Eyes. 5

When Sheerzad heard of the misfortune that had befallen the garrison, he sent Khalid an offer to surrender the fort if suitable terms were agreed upon. Khalid rejected the offer; the surrender would have to be unconditional. Sheerzad half-heartedly decided to continue resistance.

Khalid resolved to storm the fort. The wall would have to, be scaled, but this was not too difficult a task. The chief problem was crossing the moat, which was deep and wide. There were no boats available nor material with which to make boats or rafts; and the Arab of the desert was no swimmer. Khalid decided to make a bridge of flesh and bone.

1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, Vol. 6 P. 428.
2. Nothing remains of Anbar except some mounds 3 miles north-west of the present Faluja and about a mile from the Euphrates. One can still pick up pieces of old pottery on the mounds which cover an area half a mile square. According to Yaqut (Vol. 1, p. 367), the Persians called this town Fairoz Sabur.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 575.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.