The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 34: The Eve of Yarmuk

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


Page: 4

Khalid remained silent while this discussion was in progress. Then Abu Ubaidah turned to him and said, "O Father of Sulaiman! You are a man of courage and resolve and judgment. What do you think of all this?"

"What they say is good", replied Khalid. "I have different views, but shall not oppose the Muslims."

"If you have other views, speak", said Abu Ubaidah, "and we shall do as you say."

Khalid then gave his plan: "Know, O Commander, that if you stay at this place, you will be helping the enemy against you. In Caesarea, which is not far from Jabiya, there are 40,000 Romans under Constantine, son of Heraclius. 1 I advise you to move from here and place Azra behind you and be on the Yarmuk. Thus it would be easier for the Caliph to send reinforcements, and ahead of you there would be a large plain, suitable for the charge of cavalry." 2

Khalid did not specifically say so, but the inference was that Constantine, advancing from Caesarea, could attack the Muslims in the rear at Jabiya while they faced the imperial army from the north. The plan was accepted, unanimously and the move put into effect. Khalid, with the Mobile Guard of 4,000 horsemen, was left behind as a rear guard; and instead of staying at Jabiya, he moved forward and clashed with the leading elements of the Roman army. He struck at the head of the Roman column and drove it back towards Damascus. This imposed caution on the Romans, who thereafter made no effort to interfere with the retrograde move of the Muslims. A few days later Khalid rejoined the main body of the Muslim army.

The Muslims, having moved a few miles south-east, established a line of camps in the eastern part of what for want of a better name, we shall call the Plain of Yarmuk. The location of these camps is not known but they were probably south of the present Nawa-Sheikh Miskeen line with a north-west-facing front, so that the Muslims could deploy to receive a Roman attack from the north (Jabiya axis) as well as the north-west (direction of Qunaitra). Here Abu Ubaidah was joined by the corps of Shurahbil, Amr bin Al Aas and Yazeed. Some distance to the east of the Muslims sprawled the lava hills which stretch from north to east of Azra, and the mountains of Jabal-ud-Druz, north and east of Busra.

A few days later the Roman army, preceded by the lightly armed Christian Arabs of Jabla, moved up and made contact with Muslim outposts on the Plain of Yarmuk. The route of the main body of the Roman army is not recorded, but it was almost certainly from the north-west, because the Romans established their camps just north of the Wadi-ur-Raqqad. (Khalid's clash with the Romans on the Jabiya axis may have caused them to switch their axis.) The Roman camp was 18 miles long, and between it and the Muslim camp lay the central and west-central parts of the Plain of Yarmuk. 3 With the arrival of the Romans and the establishment of their camps, the direction of the Roman attack became obvious and Abu Ubaidah adjusted the Muslim camps to correspond to a battlefront running from the Yarmuk to the Jabiya Road. This is what Khalid had advised: the rear towards Azra and a flank on the Yarmuk.

Now the two armies settled down in their respective camps and began to make preparations for battle: reconnaissances, plans, orders, checking of equipment etc. To the Muslims the Romans looked like 'a swarm of locusts'. 4 Hardly had the Romans settled down in camp when a messenger arrived from Heraclius with instructions to the Commander-in-Chief, Mahan the Armenian, not to start hostilities until all avenues of peaceful negotiation had been explored. Mahan was to offer generous terms to the Muslims if they would agree to retire to Arabia and not come back again. Consequently Mahan sent one of his army commanders, Gregory, to hold talks with the Muslims. Gregory rode out to the Muslim camp, in front of which he held a discussion with Abu Ubaidah. The Roman offered to let the Muslims go in peace, taking with them everything which they had acquired in Syria, as long as they would give up all intention of invading Syria again. Abu Ubaidah's answer was in the negative, and the Roman returned empty-handed.

1. According to Gibbon (Vol. 5, p. 333) Constantine, commanding at Caesarea, was the eldest son of Heraclius.
2. Waqidi: p. 109.
3. According to Waqidi (p. 109), the Roman camp was near Jaulan (which is the area between the Wadi-ur-Raqqad and Lake Tiberius and the area to the north), and the distance between the opposing camps was approximately 11 miles (three farsakh. A farsakh equals 6000 meters.).
4. Waqidi: p. 118.