The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 29: The Battle of Ajnadein

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq

 

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The Muslims now established a camp which was a vast affair in view of the strength of the army-32,000 men, the largest Muslim force yet assembled for battle. The camp stood about a mile away from the Roman camp, which was even larger and lined the road from Jerusalem to Bait Jibreen. The opposing camps ran like two parallel lines, so laid out as to enable the armies to take the field at a moment's notice without unnecessary movement.

The Muslims had taken a week to concentrate their army at Ajnadein, a task which took the Romans more than two months. The Roman army, like any regular, sophisticated military force, needed time for its movement, and had to spend weeks in preparation-in collecting supplies, wagons and horses, and in issuing weapons and equipment. Since it travelled with thousands of wagons and carriages, it needed good roads for its movement. But over these two months the Romans had successfully concentrated an army of 90,000 men at Ajnadein under the command of Wardan, Governor of Emessa. Another general, one named Qubuqlar, acted as the Chief of Staff or the Deputy Commander-in-Chief.

The Muslims had marched to Ajnadein as a matter of choice. So long as the Roman army remained at Ajnadein, it posed no immediate threat to the Muslim corps. Only if a forward movement were undertaken by the Romans could a threat to the Muslims arise; and then the normal Arab strategy would be to pull back to the eastern or southern part of Jordan and fight a battle with their backs to the desert, into which they could withdraw in case of a reverse. The Muslims could have waited for the Romans to start the first move.

In this case, why did the Muslim army move away from the desert, and enter deep into a fertile, inhabited region towards a Roman army three times its size? The answer lies in the character of Khalid. It was his destiny to fight battles, and the promise of battle drew him like a magnet. Twelve centuries later another illustrious general, Napoleon, would say, "Nothing pleases me more than a great battle." So it was with Khalid. If anyone else had been the commander of the Muslim army, it is doubtful that the Muslims would have moved to Ajnadein.

In the long run, Khalid's decision was the right one. With a large Roman army poised at Ajnadein, the Muslims would have remained tied down to the area occupied by them, which in itself was of little importance. This Roman threat, cleverly engineered by Heraclius, had to be eliminated before the invasion could proceed deeper into Syria.
So it came about that the Romans and the Muslims faced each other in their respective camps at Ajnadein. Guards and outposts were positioned by both armies to prevent surprise. The officers rode across the land, carrying out reconnaissances, while the men made their preparations for battle.

The sight of the gigantic Roman camp had a somewhat disturbing impact on the Muslims. Everyone knew the strength of the Roman army-a staggering figure of 90,000. The majority of the Muslims had never taken part in a great battle. The only men who were left unmoved by the sight of the Roman camp were Khalid's 9,000 veterans, who had fought regular battles with large armies in Iraq; but even they had never before faced an army of this size.
Khalid went round visiting the various units in the camp and spoke to their commanders and men. He said, "Know, O Muslims, that you have never seen an army of Rome as you see now. If Allah defeats them by your hand, they shall never again stand against you. So be steadfast in battle and defend your faith. Beware of turning your backs on the enemy, for then your punishment will be the Fire. Be watchful and steady in your ranks, and do not attack until I give the order." 1 The personality of their commander and the supreme confidence which emanated from him had a marvellously steadying effect on the Muslims.

In the opposing camp, Wardan called a council of war and spoke to his generals. "O Romans," he said, "Caesar has placed his trust in you. If you are defeated, you will never again be able to make a stand against the Arabs; and they shall conquer your land and ravish your women. So be steadfast. When you attack, attack as one man-do not disperse your efforts. Seek the help of the Cross; and remember that you are three to each one of them." 2

1. Waqidi: p. 35.
2. Ibid.