The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 26: The Last Opposition

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


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Khalid could now sit back and rejoice over his victories. In less than a month he had crushed large imperial forces in four separate battles covering an operational area whose length measured 100 miles. He had done this by exploiting the tremendous mobility of his mounted army, by the use of audacity and surprise, and by violent offensive action. He had accomplished the mission given by the Caliph; there was no opposition left for him to crush. The Persians had ventured out of the imperial capital on hearing of Khalid's departure from Ain-ut-Tamr, but Khalid had returned and done it again. Ctesiphon withdrew into its shell.

Several raids were launched by Khalid into the region between the rivers. Places which had so far not felt the heavy hand of war now echoed to the tread of Muslim cavalry and the call of 'Allah is Great!' But the humble masses of Iraq were left unmolested. These people considered the arrival of the Muslims a blessing; for they brought order and stability such as had not been known since the golden years of Anushirwan the Just.

But it was not in Khalid's nature to sit back and take his ease. It was in his nature to be discontented with past achievements, ever seeking fresh glory and striving towards distant horizons. The Persian capital seemed reluctant to slake his thirst for battle by sending more armies against him so it was a pleasure for Khalid to be reminded that a strong Persian garrison still existed on the Euphrates at Firaz (near present day Abu Kamal-see Map at endpaper), which marked the frontier between the empires of Persia and Eastern Rome. This was the only Persian garrison left west of Ctesiphon; and since he had been instructed by the Caliph to "fight the Persians", Khalid decided to eliminate this force also. He marched to Firaz. On arrival here in the first week of December 633 (end of Ramadhan, 12 Hijri), Khalid found two garrisons-a Persian and a Roman. These garrisons, representing empires which in the preceding two decades had fought each other in a long and costly war, now united to battle the Muslims, and were joined in this purpose by many local Christian Arab clans.

For more than six weeks nothing happened. The two armies stood and glared at each other across the Euphrates, the Muslims on the south bank and the Romans and Persians on the north bank, neither side willing to cross the river. Then, on January 21, 634 (the 15th of Dhul Qad, 12 Hijri) Khalid was able to entice the allies across the Euphrates onto his side; and their crossing was hardly complete when he attacked them with his usual speed and violence. Thousands of them were slain before the rest found safety in flight.

This was neither a great nor a decisive battle; nor was the enemy force a very large one, as some early historians have stated. (No Persian strategist in his senses would leave a powerful garrison in a peaceful frontier town like Firaz while Central and Western Iraq was being lost and Ctesiphon itself was threatened.) Its importance lies only in the fact that it was the last battle in a brilliant campaign.

Khalid spent the next 10 days at Firaz, then, on January 31 634, the army left Firaz on its way to Hira. For this march it was formed into an advance guard, a main body and a rear guard; and Khalid let it be known that he would travel with the rear guard. But as the rear guard filed out of Firaz, Khalid and a few close friends struck out on their own in a southerly direction. They were off to Makkah, to perform the Pilgrimage which was due in a fortnight. This was to be a peaceful adventure; almost an escapade!

The actual route taken by Khalid is not known. All that is known is that he and his comrades traversed a trackless waste-a difficult and inhospitable region which no guides knew and into which even bandits feared to enter. 1 But they made it. At Makkah they performed the pilgrimage inconspicuously to avoid being recognised. Then they rushed back to Iraq. The speed at which Khalid and his wild, adventurous comrades travelled can be judged by the fact that the Muslim rear guard had not yet entered Hira when Khalid rejoined it. He rode into Hira with the rear guard as if he had been there all the time! Only the commander of the rear guard had known the secret; but the men did wonder why Khalid and a few others had shaven heads! 2

Shortly after this adventure, Khalid went out on another. Tiring of the peace and quiet which now prevailed in Iraq, he decided to lead a raid in person in the area close to Ctesiphon. Along with Muthanna he raided the prosperous market of Baghdad and returned laden with spoils.

1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 583.
2. It is traditional for Muslims to shave the head when they perform the pilgrimage.