Chapter 26: The Last Opposition
"We attacked them with mounted troops, and they saw
The darkness of death around those leafy gardens.
By morning they said we were a people who had swarmed
Over the fertile country from rugged Arabia."
[ Al-Qa'qa' bin Amr, commander in Khalid's army]1
Khalid had not gone from Ain-ut-Tamr many days when word of his departure arrived at the Persian court. It was believed that Khalid had returned to Arabia with a large part of his army; and Ctesiphon breathed more easily. After a few days, this mood of relief passed and was replaced by an angry desire to throw the Muslims back into the desert and regain the territories and the prestige which the Empire had lost. The Persians had resolved not to fight Khalid again; but they were quite prepared to fight the Muslims without Khalid.
Bahman set to work. By now he had organised a new army, made up partly of the survivors of Ullais, partly of veterans drawn from garrisons in other parts of the Empire, and partly of fresh recruits. This army was now ready for battle. With its numerous raw recruits, however, it was not of the same quality as the armies which had fought Khalid south of the Euphrates. Bahman decided not to commit this army to battle until its strength had been augmented by the large forces of Christian Arabs who remained loyal to the Empire. He therefore initiated parleys with the Arabs.
The Christian Arabs responded willingly and eagerly to the overtures of the Persian court. Apart from the defeat at Ain?ut-Tamr, the incensed Arabs of this area also sought revenge for the killing of their great chief, Aqqa. They were anxious, too, to regain the lands which they had lost to the Muslims, and to free the comrades who had been captured by the invaders. A large number of clans began to prepare for war.
Bahman divided the Persian forces into two field armies and sent them off from Ctesiphon. One, under Ruzbeh, moved to Husaid, and the other, under Zarmahr, moved to Khanafis. For the moment these two armies were located in separate areas for ease of movement and administration, but they were not to proceed beyond these locations until the Christian Arabs were ready for battle. Bahman planned to concentrate the entire imperial army to either await a Muslim attack or march south to fight the Muslims at Hira.
But the Christian Arabs were not yet ready. They were forming into two groups: the first, under a chief named Huzail bin Imran, was concentrating at Muzayyah; the second, under the chief Rabi'a bin Bujair, was gathering at two places close to each other-Saniyy and Zumail (which was also known as Bashar). These two groups, when ready, would join the Persians and form one large, powerful army. (See Map 14 below)
It was while these preparations were in progress that Qaqa, commanding the Iraq front in the absence of Khalid, took counter-measures. He pulled back some of the detachments which Khalid had sent across the Euphrates and concentrated them at Hira. And he sent two regiments forward-one to Husaid and the other to Khanafis. The commanders of these regiments were ordered to remain in contact with the Persian forces at these places, to delay the advance of the Persians, should they decide to push forward, and to keep Qaqa informed of Persian strengths and movements. These regiments moved to their respective objectives and made contact with the Persians. In the mean time, Qaqa kept the rest of the army in readiness to take the field.
This was the situation that greeted Khalid on his arrival at Hira in the fourth week of September 633 (middle of Rajab, 12 Hijri). The situation could assume dangerous proportions, but only if the four imperial forces succeeded in uniting and took offensive action against Hira. Any plan that the Muslims adopted would have to cater for two strategical requirements: (a) to prevent the concentration of the imperial forces into one great, invincible army, and (b) to guard Hira against the enemy in one sector while the Muslims operated against the enemy in the other.
Khalid decided to fight the operation in a way which had now become typical of him. He would take the offensive and destroy each imperial force separately in situ. With this strategy in mind, he divided the Muslim garrison of Hira into two corps, one of which he placed under Qaqa and the other under Abu Laila. Khalid sent them both to Ain-ut-Tamr, where he would join them a little later, after the troops who had fought at Daumat-ul-Jandal had been rested.
A few days later the entire Muslim army was concentrated at Ain-ut-Tamr, except for a small garrison left under Ayadh bin Ghanam to look after Hira. The army was now organised in three corps of about 5,000 men each, one of which was kept in reserve. Khalid sent Qaqa to Husaid and Abu Laila to Khanafis with orders to destroy the Persian armies at those places. The two generals were to take command of the Muslim regiments already deployed in their respective sectors. It was Khalid's intention to fight both Persian armies speedily as well as simultaneously, so that neither could get away while the other was being slashed to pieces. But this was not to be; for the march to Khanafis was longer than to Husaid, and Abu Laila failed to move his forces with sufficient speed to make up for this difference. Meanwhile Khalid remained with his reserve corps at Ain-ut-Tamr to guard against any offensive movement from Saniyy and Zumail towards Hira.
1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, vol. 6 p. 426.
Qaqa marched to Husaid, and Abu Laila followed him out of Ain-ut-Tamr on his way to Khanafis, both proceeding on separate routes to their objectives. As Qaqa neared his objective, Ruzbeh, the Persian commander at Husaid, sent an appeal for help to Zarmahr, the Persian commander at Khanafis. Zarmahr would not send his army to Husaid, because he had to have Bahman's permission before he could move the army from Khanafis. But he went to Husaid in person to see things for himself, and arrived just in time to take part in the Battle of Husaid, which was fought about the middle of October 633 (first week of Shaban, 12 Hijri).
As soon as Qaqa arrived at Husaid, he deployed his corps and launched it against the Persian army, which was much larger in strength. Ruzbeh was slain by Qaqa. Zarmahr also stepped forward with a challenge which was accepted by a Muslim officer who killed him. There was no dearth of courage among the Persians, but they were nevertheless roundly defeated by Qaqa and driven from the battlefield. Leaving behind a large number of dead, the Persians retreated in haste to Khanafis, where they joined the other Persian army, now under the command of another general, named Mahbuzan.
The Persian survivors of Husaid arrived at Khanafis only a short while before the corps of Abu Laila. Reports of the Muslims' approach had been received. Being a sensible general, Mahbuzan drew the right lesson from the defeat at Husaid and decided to avoid battle with the Muslims. Setting off at once from Khanafis, he moved to Muzayyah where he joined the Arab force gathered under the command of Huzail bin Imran. So Abu Laila arrived at Khanafis to find the Persians gone. He occupied Khanafis and informed Khalid of the departure of the Persians for Muzayyah.
At Ain-ut-Tamr Khalid heard of the defeat of the Persian army at Husaid. He next heard of the movement of the second Persian army, along with the remnants of the first, from Khanafis to Muzayyah. This move left Ctesiphon uncovered and vulnerable to attack, though it would no doubt have a garrison for local defence. Muzayyah now contained the strongest concentration of imperial forces. The Arab concentrations at Saniyy and Zumail, on the other hand, ceased to be a threat to Hira, as with the reverses suffered by the Persians at Husaid and Khanafis, these Arabs were not likely to venture out of their camps with aggressive intentions.
Khalid now had a choice of three objectives: the imperial capital, the imperial army at Muzayyah, and the Arab force at Saniyy and Zumail. He considered the possibility of attacking Ctesiphon, but discarded it for two reasons. Firstly, according to Tabari, he feared the displeasure of the Caliph which he would earn by an attack on Ctesiphon. 1 Abu Bakr apparently did not wish it. Secondly, and this was a purely military consideration, by advancing to Ctesiphon he would expose his flank and rear to the strong forces at Muzayyah. These forces could then either attack him in the rear while he was engaged with Ctesiphon, or advance and capture his base at Hira, severing his communications with the desert.
Of the two remaining objectives, Khalid selected Muzayyah. The other was a smaller objective and could be dealt with later without difficulty. By now the exact location of the imperial camp at Muzayyah had been established by Khalid's agents, and to deal with this objective he designed a manoeuvre which, seldom practised in history, is one of the most difficult to control and co-ordinate-a simultaneous converging attack from three directions made at night.
Khalid first issued orders for the move. The three corps would march from their respective locations at Husaid, Khanafis and Ain-ut-Tamr along separate routes he had specified between the Euphrates and the Saniyy-Zumail line, and meet on a given night and at a given hour at a place a few miles short of Muzayyah. This move was carried out as planned, and the three corps concentrated at the appointed place. Here Khalid gave orders for the attack. He laid down the time of the attack and the three separate directions from which the three corps would fall upon the unsuspecting enemy. He was putting his army to a severe test of precision; only a highly efficient military machine could carry out such a finely timed manoeuvre at night.
1. For Khalid's mission is Iraq, see Note 4 on Appendix B.
And so this manoeuvre was carried out. The Persians and the Arabs slept peacefully, for the last reported locations of the Muslim corps showed them at a considerable distance and there was no apparent danger of a surprise attack. This proved to be their last night in Muzayyah. The imperial army knew of the attack only when three roaring masses of Muslim warriors hurled themselves at the camp.
In the confusion of the night and the panic of the moment the imperial army never found its feet. Terror became the mood of the camp as soldiers fleeing from one Muslim corps ran into another. Thousands were slaughtered. The Muslims struck to finish this army as completely as they had finished the army of Andarzaghar at Walaja; but large numbers of Persians and Arabs nevertheless managed to get away, helped by the very darkness that had cloaked the surprise attack.
By the time the sun rose over the eastern horizon no, living warrior of the imperial army remained at Muzayyah.. We do not know the fate of the Persian general, Mahbuzan, but the Arab commander, Huzail bin Imran, made good his escape and joined the Arab force at Zumail.
This action took place in the first week of November 633 (fourth week of Shaban, 12 Hijri). The manoeuvre had worked beautifully; the timing was perfect!
Among the Arabs who lost their lives at Muzayyah were two Muslims. These men had travelled to Madinah a short while before the invasion of Iraq and had met Abu Bakr, accepted, Islam and returned to live among their Christian clansmen. When Madinah heard of the death of these two Muslims at the hands of Khalid's army, Umar walked up to the Caliph and angrily denounced what he called the tyranny of Khalid; but Abu Bakr shrugged it off with the remark: "This happens to those who live among infidels." 1 Nevertheless, he ordered that blood-money be paid to their families. As for Khalid, the Caliph repeated his now famous words: "I shall not sheathe the sword that Allah has drawn against the infidels."
From Muzayyah, Khalid turned to Saniyy and Zumail-Saniyy was closer and thus became the first objective, for which Khalid decided to repeat the manoeuvre of Muzayyah. His army would operate in three corps as before. From Muzayyah the corps would march on separate axes and converge for the attack on Saniyy on a predetermined night and time. Khalid advanced on the direct route from Muzayyah while the other corps moved wide on his flanks. On the appointed night and at the appointed time-in the second week of November 633 (first week of Ramazan, 12 Hijri)-the three corps fell upon the Arab camp at Saniyy. This time even fewer Arabs survived the slaughter. The women and children and many youths, however, were spared, and taken captive. The Arab commander, Rabi'a bin Bujair, also met his death, and his beautiful daughter was captured; but she was not taken by Khalid. She was sent to Madinah, where she became the wife of Ali. 2
Khalid was now manoeuvring his army with the effortlessness with which one might move pieces on a chessboard. Two or three nights after Saniyy he did the same to Zumail - three corps attacking from different directions-and the Arabs at Zumail too were swallowed up by the earthquake which hit Muzayyah and Saniyy. 3
Once he had disposed of the captives and the booty taken at Zumail, Khalid turned his steps towards Ruzab, where Hilal, the son of Aqqa, was gathering more Arab clans to avenge his father's death. But when the Muslims arrived at Ruzab not a soul was to be seen. At the last moment these Arabs had decided that further resistance was futile and had melted away into the desert.
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 581.
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 582.
3. There is uncertainty about the location of these four battlefields. For an explanation see Note 6 in Appendix B.
Khalid could now sit back and rejoice over his victories. In less than a month he had crushed large imperial forces in four separate battles covering an operational area whose length measured 100 miles. He had done this by exploiting the tremendous mobility of his mounted army, by the use of audacity and surprise, and by violent offensive action. He had accomplished the mission given by the Caliph; there was no opposition left for him to crush. The Persians had ventured out of the imperial capital on hearing of Khalid's departure from Ain-ut-Tamr, but Khalid had returned and done it again. Ctesiphon withdrew into its shell.
Several raids were launched by Khalid into the region between the rivers. Places which had so far not felt the heavy hand of war now echoed to the tread of Muslim cavalry and the call of 'Allah is Great!' But the humble masses of Iraq were left unmolested. These people considered the arrival of the Muslims a blessing; for they brought order and stability such as had not been known since the golden years of Anushirwan the Just.
But it was not in Khalid's nature to sit back and take his ease. It was in his nature to be discontented with past achievements, ever seeking fresh glory and striving towards distant horizons. The Persian capital seemed reluctant to slake his thirst for battle by sending more armies against him so it was a pleasure for Khalid to be reminded that a strong Persian garrison still existed on the Euphrates at Firaz (near present day Abu Kamal-see Map at endpaper), which marked the frontier between the empires of Persia and Eastern Rome. This was the only Persian garrison left west of Ctesiphon; and since he had been instructed by the Caliph to "fight the Persians", Khalid decided to eliminate this force also. He marched to Firaz. On arrival here in the first week of December 633 (end of Ramadhan, 12 Hijri), Khalid found two garrisons-a Persian and a Roman. These garrisons, representing empires which in the preceding two decades had fought each other in a long and costly war, now united to battle the Muslims, and were joined in this purpose by many local Christian Arab clans.
For more than six weeks nothing happened. The two armies stood and glared at each other across the Euphrates, the Muslims on the south bank and the Romans and Persians on the north bank, neither side willing to cross the river. Then, on January 21, 634 (the 15th of Dhul Qad, 12 Hijri) Khalid was able to entice the allies across the Euphrates onto his side; and their crossing was hardly complete when he attacked them with his usual speed and violence. Thousands of them were slain before the rest found safety in flight.
This was neither a great nor a decisive battle; nor was the enemy force a very large one, as some early historians have stated. (No Persian strategist in his senses would leave a powerful garrison in a peaceful frontier town like Firaz while Central and Western Iraq was being lost and Ctesiphon itself was threatened.) Its importance lies only in the fact that it was the last battle in a brilliant campaign.
Khalid spent the next 10 days at Firaz, then, on January 31 634, the army left Firaz on its way to Hira. For this march it was formed into an advance guard, a main body and a rear guard; and Khalid let it be known that he would travel with the rear guard. But as the rear guard filed out of Firaz, Khalid and a few close friends struck out on their own in a southerly direction. They were off to Makkah, to perform the Pilgrimage which was due in a fortnight. This was to be a peaceful adventure; almost an escapade!
The actual route taken by Khalid is not known. All that is known is that he and his comrades traversed a trackless waste-a difficult and inhospitable region which no guides knew and into which even bandits feared to enter. 1 But they made it. At Makkah they performed the pilgrimage inconspicuously to avoid being recognised. Then they rushed back to Iraq. The speed at which Khalid and his wild, adventurous comrades travelled can be judged by the fact that the Muslim rear guard had not yet entered Hira when Khalid rejoined it. He rode into Hira with the rear guard as if he had been there all the time! Only the commander of the rear guard had known the secret; but the men did wonder why Khalid and a few others had shaven heads! 2
Shortly after this adventure, Khalid went out on another. Tiring of the peace and quiet which now prevailed in Iraq, he decided to lead a raid in person in the area close to Ctesiphon. Along with Muthanna he raided the prosperous market of Baghdad and returned laden with spoils.
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 583.
2. It is traditional for Muslims to shave the head when they perform the pilgrimage.
If Khalid had hoped that he would not be recognised in Makkah, he was mistaken. He had hardly got back from the raid on Baghdad when he received a letter from Abu Bakr warning him "not to do it again!" The warning was accompanied by another great mission: Khalid was to proceed to Syria. The Campaign in Iraq was over. 1
The invasion of Iraq was a splendid success. The Muslims had fought several bloody battles with Persian armies much larger in size, and they not only won every battle but also inflicted crushing defeats on the Persians and their Arab auxiliaries. And the Persian Army was the most fearsome military machine of the time!
Khalid's strategy in this campaign, and it was one from which he never deviated, was to fight his battles close to the desert, with his routes to the desert open in case he should suffer a reverse. The desert was not only a haven of security into which the Persians would not venture but also a region of free, fast movement in which he could move easily and rapidly to any objective that he chose. He did not enter deep into Iraq until the Persian Army had lost its ability to threaten his routes to the desert.
The Persian military strategy was conditioned by the political necessity of defending the imperial borders, and this led to their fighting their battles with the Muslims on the boundary between the desert and the sown, as Khalid wished. But within this political limitation, they followed a sound course and planned a massive concentration of strength for battle. Qarin should have joined Hormuz; Bahman should have joined Andarzaghar; and Ruzbeh and Zarmahr should have joined the Arab forces at Muzayyah and Saniyy-Zurmail. Had these combinations taken place, the campaign may have taken an altogether different course. But they did not take place, thanks to Khalid's fast movement and his deliberate design to bring the various armies to battle one by one, separating them from each other in time and space.
The main instruments that Khalid used to make his ambitious manoeuvres successful were the fighting quality of the Muslims and the mobility of the army. These he exploited to the limits of human and animal endurance. Though only part of his army was actual cavalry, the entire army was camel mounted for movement and could strike at the decisive place and the decisive time as its commander wished. It could move fast enough to fight a battle at A, and then be present at B for another battle before the enemy could react.
There is no record of the strength of the Persian forces which faced Khalid in the various battles, or of the casualties suffered by either side. Certain casualty figures given for the Persians are probably exaggerated. What is certain is that they were very large armies and suffered staggering losses, especially at Walaja, Ullais, Muzayyah and Saniyy-Zumail, where they ceased to exist as effective fighting forces. The Persian armies that faced Khalid at Kazima, MaqiI, Walaja and Ullais probably numbered between 30,000 and 50,000 men. An enemy force up to two or three times their strength would not worry Khalid and his stalwarts. They would take it in their stride. Nor would armies of this size be too large by Persian standards. (At the Battle of Qadissiyah, fought three years later, the Persians fielded an army of 60,000 men!) As for Muslim casualties, considering that the army remained at a high level of effectiveness throughout the campaign, they must have been light.
Above all, it was the personality of Khalid that made the invasion of Iraq possible and successful against such staggering odds. He was the first of the illustrious Muslim commanders who set out to conquer foreign lands and redraw the political and religious map of the world. He imposed no hardship upon his men which he did not bear himself. It was the limitless faith which his warriors had in the Sword of Allah that made it possible for them to brave such dangers.
Khalid swept across Iraq like a violent storm. Like a violent storm he would now dash to Syria and strike the armies of another proud empire-Eastern Rome.
1. For an explanation of the dates of the battles in this campaign see Note 7 in Appendix B.