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: 6

On the day following the arrival of the Muslims, Khalid had Kulus and Azazeer brought in irons near the East Gate where they could be seen by the Romans on the wall. Here both generals were offered Islam, and both rejected the offer. Then, in full view of the Roman garrison, the two generals were beheaded, the executioner being none other than Dhiraar.

For three weeks the siege continued with no major action except for a few half-hearted Roman sallies which the Muslims, had no difficulty in repulsing. During the day the two sides would keep up a sporadic exchange of archery, though no great damage was suffered by either side. This was to be a siege to the bitter end. Damascus would, if necessary, be starved into submission. 1

Soon after Heraclius heard of the defeat of the Roman army at Marj-us-Suffar by Khalid and the commencement of the siege of the city, he undertook measures to raise fresh forces. The recent blows suffered by the Empire were serious enough; but the successful advance of the Muslims had now created an even more critical situation, and Damascus itself was in danger. If Damascus fell, it would be a staggering blow to the prestige it could not recover without mobilizing the entire military resources of the Empire-a task not to be undertaken except in the direct emergency. And Damascus was in danger of falling not because of insufficient troops in the city but because of insufficient supplies. It had not been provisioned for a long siege.

Within 10 days of the start of the siege, Heraclius had raised a new army of 12,000 men drawn from garrisons in various parts of Northern Syria and the Jazeer. 2 This army was launched from Antioch with a large baggage-train carrying supplies, and the commander was instructed to reach Damascus at any cost and relieve the beleaguered garrison. The relief column marched via Emessa, made contact with Muslim scouts between Emessa and Damascus, and from here onwards was prepared for battle at a moment's notice.

On September 9, 634 (the 10th of Rajab, 13 Hijri), a messenger came galloping into Khalid's camp to inform him that a large Roman army of undetermined strength was advancing rapidly from Emessa, and in a day or so would make contact with the blocking force deployed at Bait Lihya. Khalid was not surprised to hear this, for he had guessed that Heraclius would do everything in his power to relieve Damascus; and it was for this reason that Khalid had placed the blocking force on the main route by which a relief column could approach the city.

He immediately organised a mounted force of 5,000 men and placed it under Dhiraar. He instructed Dhiraar to proceed with all speed to the area of Bait Lihya, take command of the regiment already deployed there and deal with the relief column approaching from Emessa. He cautioned Dhiraar against being rash and instructed him to seek reinforcements before committing his force to battle in case the enemy strength proved too large. Such words of caution, however, were wasted on Dhiraar; if there was one quality which he did not possess it was caution. With Raafe as his second-in-command, Dhiraar rode away from Damascus and picking up the blocking force, moved forward to a low ridge a little short of Saniyyat-ul-Uqab (the Pass of the Eagle) and deployed his force in ambush.

Next morning the Roman army appeared in sight. The Muslims waited. As the head of the Roman column got close to the ambush, Dhiraar ordered the attack. His men rose from their places of concealment, and led by their half-naked commander, rushed at the Romans. But the Romans were prepared for such a contingency. They deployed so quickly in battle formation that the action became a frontal engagement, with the Muslims attacking and the Romans standing firm in defence on higher ground in front of the Pass of the Eagle. The Muslims now realised the full strength of the enemy, which amounted to twice their own. But this did not matter to Dhiraar. Assaulting furiously in front of his men, he got far ahead of his comrades and before long was completely surrounded by the Romans. His enemies recognised him as the Naked Champion; and decided to take him alive and show him as a prize to their Emperor. Dhiraar was wounded by an arrow in the right arm but continued to fight as the Romans closed in. At last, however, after he had suffered several wounds, he was overpowered by the Romans, who then sent him to the rear.

1. According to Tabari (Vol. 2, p. 626) the Muslims also used catapults at this siege; but this is unlikely because the Muslims had no siege equipment, nor did they know much about using it.
2. Jazeera literally means island, and this name was used to designate the region between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris in present day North-Eastern Syria, North-Western Iraq and South-Eastern Turkey.