The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 30: The Conquest of Damascus

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq

 

Page: 2

Khalid had by now organized a military staff-a simple beginning of what later in military history would emerge as the General Staff. He had collected from all the regions in which he had fought-Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Palestine-a small group of keen and intelligent men who acted as his 'staff officers', mainly functioning as an intelligence staff. 1 They would collect information, organize the despatch and questioning of agents, and keep Khalid up to date with the latest military situation. Intelligence was one aspect of war to which Khalid paid special attention. Ever watchful and ever ready to exploit fleeting opportunities, it was said of him that "he neither slept nor let others sleep, and nothing was concealed from him." 2 But this was a personal staff rather than the staff of an army headquarters; wherever Khalid went, this staff went with him.

Khalid had also made a notable change in the organisation of the army. From his army of Iraq, which after Ajnadein numbered about 8,000 men, he had organised a force of 4,000 horsemen, which the early historians refer to as 'the Army of Movement'. For want of a better translation, it shall here be called the Mobile Guard. This force, like the army of Iraq, which now comprised just one corps of the Muslim army, was kept under his personal command by Khalid, and was earmarked as a mobile reserve for use in battle as required. The Mobile Guard was undoubtedly the finest body of men in the army-a corps d'elite.

From Yaqusa, Khalid marched with his corps of Iraq in the lead. This was followed by the other corps and the women and children. By now the families of the warriors from Iraq, which had been sent to Madinah before the Perilous March, had also joined the Muslim army in Syria. After three days, of marching along the Jabiya route, the leading elements arrived at Marj-us-Suffar, about 12 miles from Damascus, and discovered a large Roman army barring their way. This Roman force, consisting of about 12,000 soldiers and commanded by Kulus and Azazeer, had been sent forward by Thomas to fight a battle in the open and drive the Muslims away from Damascus, or if that were not possible, delay the Muslim advance and thus gain more time for the provisioning of the city. For the night the leading Muslim corps camped about a mile from the Roman position, while the other corps were still some distance behind.

Marj-us-Suffar (the Yellow Meadow) stretched south from Kiswa, a small town 12 miles from Damascus on the present road to Dar'a. At the southern edge of the town ran a small, wooded wadi and from this wadi stretched southwards the Marj-us-Suffar. Just west of the town rose a low ridge, and the Roman position was in front of this and south of the wadi. 3

The following morning, on August 19, 634 (the 19th of Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 13 Hijri), Khalid moved up his corps; and the Muslims and the Romans marshalled their forces for the Battle of Marj-us-Suffar. The rest of the Muslim army was rushing to the battlefield, but it would be another two hours or so before it arrived. The leading corps, which was now deployed for battle, would act as a firm base on which the whole army would form up on arrival. The Romans appeared to remain on the defensive since they made no move to engage the Muslims. In the mean time Khalid started a phase of duels that would keep the Romans occupied until the arrival of the remaining Muslim corps.

This phase was rather like a tournament with gallants displaying their courage and skill, except that a good deal of blood was shed. The Romans played the game sportingly, for they too had champions as gallant as any; and among these the two generals, Kulus and Azazeer, were considered the bravest and the best. The rank and file of the two armies stood by as spectators and cheered their 'players'.

Khalid started this bloody tournament by calling forward a number of his stalwarts, including Dhiraar, Shurahbil and Abdur-Rahman bin Abi Bakr. All these cavaliers rode out from the Muslim front rank, galloped about the space between the two armies and threw their individual challenges. Against each of them a Roman officer emerged, and the champions paired off for combat. Practically every Roman was killed. After killing his opponent the Muslim champion would gallop across the front of the Roman army, taunting and challenging; and on getting a suitable opportunity, would even strike down one or two men in the front rank before retiring to the Muslim army.

1. Waqidi: Vol. 2, p. 47.
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 626.
3. The town, the ridge and the wadi are still there, and the plain is still yellowish in appearance.