The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 27: The Perilous March

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


Page: 8

Some time in the middle of Rabi-ul-Awwal (third week of May), the Caliph received a message from Abu Ubaidah giving a fairly clear picture of the situation in Syria and Palestine. Muslim estimates suggested that presently the Romans would have an army of 100,000 men at Ajnadein, from where it could either strike frontally against Amr bin Al Aas, or manoeuvre against the flanks and rear of the other three Muslim corps. This estimate of Roman strength was not far from the mark, as we shall see later.

The situation had taken a turn for the worse. The Romans were in much larger strength than had been anticipated by the Muslims when the invasion was launched; and it was clear that the Romans were not going to sit in their fortified cities and await attack. They were concentrating into one great army to fight a grand offensive battle in the field. The Muslims would either have to fight a general set-piece battle with the Imperial Roman Army or withdraw hastily into Arabia, neither of which alternatives was pleasant to contemplate. The Caliph rejected the second one outright. There was no question of returning to Arabia in face of the Roman threat. The invasion of Syria had been launched; it must be sustained. But what caused Abu Bakr the greatest anxiety was the question of who should command the Muslim army? Abu Bakr had ordered that Abu Ubaidah would take command of the army whenever the corps were united for battle. Abu Ubaidah was a wise, intelligent man, and a widely esteemed and venerated Muslim. He was also a man of unquestionable personal courage. But knowing his mild and gentle nature and his lack of experience in the command of military forces in major operations, Abu Bakr had serious misgivings about his ability to lead the entire Muslim army in a serious clash with the powerful and sophisticated army of Eastern Rome.

Abu Bakr reached the best conclusion which was possible under the circumstances: he would send Khalid bin Al Waleed to command the Muslim army in Syria! Khalid had recently shattered the Persian army in several bloody battles. Khalid would know what to do. This decision made Abu Bakr feel lighter, as if a heavy burden had been lifted off his shoulders. "By Allah," he said, "I shall destroy the Romans and the friends of Satan with Khalid bin Al Waleed!" 1 He consequently despatched a fast rider to Hira with instructions for Khalid to move with half his army to Syria, take command of the Muslim forces and fight the Romans.

The next chapter takes up the thread of events which constituted Khalid's conquest of Syria. This subject is taken up with the full realization of the possibility of error in the account of this campaign, because of the confusion and the contradictions that exist in the narratives of the early historians. There is disagreement about many important aspects of this military history-in the dates of the great battles; in the strengths of the forces deployed in these battles, in the order in which these battles were fought; even, in the case of the odd battle, about who commanded the army at the time. The only writer who has described the campaign in meticulous detail is Waqidi; but his account also contains errors, as it is based on narratives passed down orally from the Syrian veterans, which sometimes conflict.

In this book has been prepared, from all the accounts available, a sequence of events and a version of these events which makes the most military sense and leaves the least room for contradiction. The reader has been spared copious footnotes, explaining each alternative version and each deviation from the commonly accepted version of this campaign; but he will find footnotes in the case of the more important issues, so that he may form his own opinion. And Allah knows best!

1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 603.