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: 16

Oh yes, they could. He, Jonah, knew several short cuts which fast-moving horseman could use to overtake the convoy, while the convoy itself was bound to the roads and could not shorten its route. Still no use. Several Syrian forts-Emessa, Baalbeek, Tripolis-were close enough to reach in three or four days, and the convoy would be safely within the walls of any of these before the Muslims could catch up with it.

Oh no, it would not. The convoy was not going to any of these places. He, Jonah, knew that the convoy was making for Antioch and would take many days to get there. He, Jonah, would be the guide of the Muslims. All he wanted in return was the girl!

Khalid's eyes brightened. The possibilities which the proposal of Jonah opened up were like water to the thirsty. He beckoned to a few of his officers-Dhiraar, Raafe, Abdur-Rahman bin Abi Bakr. They would launch a pursuit after three days! Plans were formulated, orders issued, preparations made. When the three days' grace period was over, the Mobile Guard would dash out in pursuit and go at breakneck speed. On Jonah's suggestion it was decided that all would be dressed like local Arabs, so that any Roman units encountered on the way would mistake them for such and not intercept their movement. Hope stirred in the hearts of the Faithful!

On the morning of the fourth day, shortly after sunrise, at the exact time when the period of grace ended, the Mobile Guard galloped away from Damascus with Khalid and Jonah in the lead. Abu Ubaidah was left as commander at Damascus.

The route taken by the Mobile Guard is not recorded. It is stated by Waqidi that the Muslims caught up with the convoy a short distance from Antioch, not far from the sea, on a plateau beyond a range of hills called Al Abrash by the Arabs and Barda by the Romans. 1 Here there had been a heavy downpour, and the convoy had dispersed on the plateau, seeking shelter from the inclement weather, while the goods lay all over the place. The Romans had not the least suspicion of the thunderbolt that was about to strike them. So many bundles of brocade lay scattered on the ground that this plain became known as Marj-ud-Deebaj, i.e. the Meadow of Brocade, and for this reason the action described has been named the Battle of the Meadow of Brocade.

The weather had now cleared. Jonah and other scouts established the location of the convoy without being spotted, and brought sufficient intelligence for Khalid to plan his attack. He took a few hours to give his orders and position the Mobile Guard for its task. Khalid, the master of movement and surprise, here again showed his superb skill in the application of these military principles.

The Romans received their first indication of the presence of the Muslims when about a regiment of cavalry came charging at them from the south, along the road from Damascus, led by the half-naked Dhiraar. The Romans were surprised that Dhiraar had caught up with them, but seeing that he had only a small force, they decided to make mincemeat of him and then rest again. They formed up to meet the Muslim charge, and began to fight like the brave Romans that they were.

Half an hour later another body of Muslim cavalry, 1,000 horse led by Raafe, appeared from the east; and the Romans now realised the mistake that they had made in believing that only a regiment had caught up with them. The Muslims no doubt had two regiments. The first was a feint to draw the attention of the Romans, while the second delivered the main blow from a flank. But it did not matter; they would make mincemeat of two regiments instead of one. The Romans re-formed and received the charge of Raafe also.

Half an hour later, when another regiment of cavalry made its appearance from the north, i.e. from the direction of Antioch, under the command of Abdur-Rahman, the Romans were seriously alarmed. This was more dangerous than they had imagined. They were cut off from Antioch, and would have to deal quickly with these three regiments in order to break out to the north or retreat to the west, the latter being the only way left open to them. The Romans again re-formed though their spirits now were not so high. The Muslim regiments struck at the massed Romans with sword and lance and played havoc; but the Romans were able to hold their position, and the fighting proceeded fiercely for another hour.

1. This range was probably what is now known as Jabal Ansariya, the northern end of which stretches to the south of Antioch. Travelling across this range from Aleppo to Latakia one sees many stretches of level ground on the higher parts of the range.