Battle of Walaja

Battle of Walaja

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Walaja
partof=Islamic conquest of Persia
Campaigns of Khalid ibn al-Walid

caption=Map showing the region in Iraq where Battle of Walaja was fought.
date=May 633 A.D
place=Mesopotamia (Iraq)
result=Decisive Rashidun Caliphate victory
combatant1=Rashidun Caliphate
combatant2=Sassanid Persian Empire,
Christian Arab allies
commander1=Khalid ibn al-Walid
commander2= Andarzaghar†
strength1=15,000A. I. Akram (1970). "The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns". National Publishing House, Rawalpindi. ISBN 0-7101-0104-X.]
casualties2=20,000 |
The Battle of Walaja was a battle fought in Mesopotamia (Iraq) in May 633 between the Rashidun Caliphate army under Khalid ibn al-Walid and the Persian Empire and its Arab allies. In this battle the Persian army is said to be at least three times the size of the Muslim army. [ Campaigns in Eastern Iraq] , "Khalifa Abu Bakr", "Companion of the Prophet". Virtual library of Witness-Pioneer.]

Khalid decisively defeated the numerically superior Persian forces using a variation of the double envelopment tactical manoeuvre, similar to the manoeuvre Hannibal used to defeat the Roman forces at the Battle of Cannae; however Khalid developed his version independently.


Prophet Mohammad died on 8th June 632, Abu Bakr succeeded him as first Caliph. Abu Bakr's Caliphate lasted for 27 months, during which he crushed the rebellion of the Arab tribes throughout Arabia in the successful campaign against Apostasy and restore the authority of Madinah over Arabia. Once the rebellions had been put down, Abu Bakr began a war of conquest. He launched campaigns against the Sassanid Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) and thus set in motion a historical trajectory that in just a few short decades would lead to one of the largest empires in history.After Ridda Wars a tribal chief raided the Persian towns in Iraq, with the success of these raids Abu Bakr planned to expand his empire. He started with Iraq, a rich Persian province. He decided that the army that would invade Persia would consist entirely of volunteers; and he put in command of the army his best general Khalid ibn al-Walid.Muslims invaded the Sassanid Persian Empire in April 633 A.D and defeated the Sassanid army in two consecutive battles: the Battle of Chains and the Battle of River. The Muslims' objective was to capture Hira. After the "Battle of River", the Rashidun Caliphate army under Khalid ibn Walid once again set out for Hira; meanwhile the news of the defeat at the Battle of River reached Ctesiphon. The commanders of the defeated Persian armies were not only the most experienced but also said to be the most highly regarded figures at the Persian court, so Ardashir III decided not to take any chances.

Concentration of Persian army

The Sassanian Emperor, Ardashir III ordered the concentration of another two armies; [The Challenge to the Empires By Khalid Yahya Blankinship, Ṭabarī, pg. 19] he gave this order on the very day on which the Battle of River was fought.Following the orders of Ardashir III, the Persian forces began to gather at the imperial capital. They came from all towns and garrisons except those manning the western frontier with the Eastern Roman Empire. In a few days the first army was ready. The Persian court expected the Muslims to proceed along the Euphrates to North-Western Iraq, as they knew that no Arab force would move away from the desert, which they used to retreat to in case of defeat. Expecting the Muslim army to move west, Ardashir III picked Walaja as the place at which to stop Khalid ibn al-Walid and destroy his army. The first of the new Persian armies raised at Ctesiphon was placed under the command of Andarzaghar, governor of Khurasan. Andarzaghar was ordered to move his army to "Walaja", where he would soon be joined by the second army. He set off from Ctesiphon, moved along the east bank of the Tigris, crossed the Tigris at Kaskar, moved south-west to the Euphrates, near Walaja, crossed the Euphrates and established his camp at Walaja.

On his way to Walaja, the Persian general picked up thousands of Arabs who were willing to fight under his standard. [Iraq After the Muslim Conquest By Michael G. Morony, pg. 224] He had also met and taken command of the remnants of the army that had fought in the "Battle of River". When he arrived at Walaja he waited for Bahman, who was to join him in a few days. Bahman was the commander of the second army, and one of the top personalities of the Persian military hierarchy. He was ordered by the Emperor to take the second army to Walaja, where Andarzaghar would await him. The plan was for Bahman to be the commander of both the armies, and with this enormous might to fight and destroy the Rashidun Caliphate army in one great battle. Bahman moved on a separate route to Andarzaghar's. [ The Challenge to the Empires By Khalid Yahya Blankinship, Ṭabarī, pg. 19] From Ctesiphon, he marched south between the two rivers, heading directly for Walaja, but he left Ctesiphon several days after the first army started marching, causing delays.

Preparation of the Muslim army

The Battle of River had been an important victory for the Muslims. Sustaining lower casualties, the Muslims had defeated a large Persian Army and acquired a vast amount of booty. Now the Muslims begin to realize the immensity of the resources of the Persian Empire; they had fought two battles with two separate Persian armies and driven them both from the battlefield, but were still only on the fringes of the Empire. The Persians could field many armies like the ones that had fought at Kazima and the River. By now Khalid had organised an efficient network of intelligence agents. The agents were local Arab traitors who were hostile to the Persians. The agents informed Khalid about the concentration of new Persian armies in the area of Walaja and their much greater numbers. Khalid had to get to Hira, and Walaja was directly on his route.With an army of about 15,000 men, Khalid set off in the direction of Hira, moving at a fast pace along the south edge of the great marsh. A few days before Bahman was expected, the Muslim army appeared over the eastern horizon and camped a short distance from Walaja.

Maneuver of Khalid

Great numbers of Sassanian Persians who had fled from earlier battles took up arms again. The survivors of the Battle of Chains joined "Qarin" and fought at the Battle of River. The survivors of the Battle of River joined "Andarzaghar" and were now moving towards "Walaja". The Muslims faced two concerns, one strategic and one tactical:

#The strategic: Two Persian armies were about to combine to oppose them. [Annals of the Early Caliphate By William Muir, pg. 75] To solve this problem, the Muslim commander-in-chief Khalid ibn Walid determined to advance rapidly, fight, and eliminate one army (Andarzaghar's) before the other army (Bahman's) arrived on the scene.
#The tactical: Prevent enemy warriors from escaping battle to regroup and continue fighting. To accomplish this, Khalid decided to surround the Sassanid army, attack them from the rear, and annihilate their army in the field. Khalid's strategy was a variation of the double envelopment tactic.

Khalid gave instructions to Suwaid bin Muqarrin to see to the administration of the conquered districts with his team of officials, and posted detachments to guard the lower Tigris against possible enemy crossings from the north and east and to give warning of any fresh enemy forces coming from those directions. [Annals of the Early Caliphate By William Muir, pg. 75]


The battlefield consisted of an even plain stretching between two low, flat ridges, which were about 2 miles apart and 20 to 30 feet in height. The north-eastern part of the plain ran into a barren desert. A short distance beyond the north-eastern ridge flowed a branch of the Euphrates now known as the River Khaseef.

The Battle

Andarzaghar, presumably was confident of victory, and didn't even bother to withdraw to the river bank, a mile away, so that he could use the river to guard his rear.On May 633, the armies deployed for battle, each with a center and wings. The Muslim wings were again commanded by Asim bin Amr and Addi bin hatim. The Persians deployed in the centre of this plain, facing east-south-east, with the western ridge behind them and their left resting on the north-eastern ridge. Khalid formed up his army just forward of the north-eastern ridge, facing the Persian army. The center of the battlefield, i.e. the mid-point between the two armies, was about 2 miles south-east of the present "Ain-ul-Muhari", and 35 miles south-east of present Najaf and 6 miles south-east to the present "Ash Sinafiyah".

Most of the Muslim forces was comprised of infantry, with few cavalry. The Persians had expected Khalid's army to be much larger.

The night before the Battle of Walaja, Khalid had sent for two of his officers - Busr bin Abi Rahm and Saeed bin Marra - making them each the commander of a mobile striking force of about 2,000 cavalry and instructing them as follows:
# They would take their cavalry out during the night and move wide around the south of the Persian camp.
# On arrival on the far side of the ridge which stretched behind the Persian camp, they would conceal their men but keep them ready to move at short notice.
# When battle was joined in the morning, they would keep their men mounted behind the crest of the ridge and position observers to watch for Khalid's signal.
# When Khalid gave the signal, the two striking forces would charge the Persian army in the rear, each group echeloned a bit to one flank. [Tabari: Vol: 2, page: 559.] Necessary orders were issued by Khalid to those who had to know of the plan, so that the organisation and preparation of the striking forces could be carried out without a hitch; but the utmost secrecy was maintained and the Muslim rank and file knew nothing of the planned double envelopment manoeuvre.
legend|#ef1000|Muslim armylegend|#5200FA|Sassanid Persian army
Khalid ibn Walid's variation of the double envelopment tactical manoeuvre at "Battle of Walaja". The Muslims surrounded and destroyed the Persians.]

Khalid formed up the rest of his army, about 10,000 strong, in front of the Sassanid Persian army. The strategy of the Persian commander in chief, Andarzaghar, was to go on the defensive and let the Muslims charge first. He planned to hold off their attacks until they were worn out, and then launch a Counter-attack to rout the weary Muslim army. The first phase of the battle went according to Andarzaghar's plan. Khalid ordered a general attack. The Sassanid army had reserves which they employed to replace their men in the front line, giving them the upper hand over the Muslim army and helping them to carry out their scheme to wear out the Muslim army. During this time, Khalid is said to have dueled with a Persian champion of gigantic proportions known as "Hazar Mard" and killed him, which was a psychological victory for the Muslims. [Tabari: Vol: 2, page no: 560.] [ Abu Yusuf: page no: 142.] The first phase was over. The second phase of the battle began with the counter-attack of the Sassanid Persian army. Perhaps seeing signs of fatigue from the Muslim soldiers, Andarzaghar judged that this was the right moment for his counter-attack. At his command the Sassanians supported by Persian heavy cavalry surged forward and struck at the Muslims. The Muslims were able to hold them for some time, but the Persians pressed on. The vaguely retreating Muslim army had to hold back the attack until further instructions from Khalid ibn Walid.

Khalid eventually gave the signal to press forward. The next moment, over the crest of the ridge which stretched behind the Sassanian army appeared two divisions of mounted warriors-one behind the Persian left, the other behind the Persian right. Muslims light cavalry, that could charge at incredible speed, and could successfully attack retreat maneuver and attack again, was no match for Persian heavy cavalry. Routing the Persian cavalry, the two mounted columns started encircling the Persian army. The main body of Muslim army under Khalid ibn al-Walid resumed the attack against the Persian front, at the same time extending its flanks to join hands with the cavalry and completely surround the Persians. The army of Andarzaghar was caught in a trap and could not escape.Recoiling from the assaults that came from all directions, the Sassanid army gathered in an unwieldy mass, unable to use their weapons freely or avoid the blows of their assailants. Those who wanted to fight did not know whom to fight. Those who wanted to flee did not know where to go. The battle was over, with heavy casualties inflicted on the Sassanid army. Only a few thousand imperial warriors managed to escape. Andarzaghar himself managed to escape, but he moved towards the Arabian desert instead of the Euphrates region and died of thirst.


After the battle Khalid brought his exhausted men together. He realized that the battle had imposed a terrible strain upon his troops, despite their sound victory over the Sassanians. [Annals of the Early Caliphate By William Muir, pg. 75] The battle of Walaja had been the longest [Annals of the Early Caliphate By William Muir, pg. 75] and fiercest of the battles that the Muslims had so far fought in Iraq, so Khalid ibn al-Walid sought to ensure that Muslim morale remained high.

Khalid is said to have addressed his men in the following words. He started by praising Allah and calling his blessings upon Muhammad.

After annihilating another army of Sassanid Persians and their Christian Arab allies at the Battle of Ullais, the Muslims conquered Hira, the capital city of Mesopotamia in late May 633 A.D. There followed the conquest of Al-Anbar and the successful siege of Ein-al-Tamr. With the fall of the main cities the whole of southern and central Iraq, with the exception of Ctesiphon, came under Muslim control. In 634 A.D Abu Bakr ordered Khalid ibn Walid to proceed to Syria with half of his army to command the invasion of the Byzantine Empire. Misna bin Haris was left as the successor of Khalid. The Persians, under their new emperor Yazdgerd III, raised new armies and defeated the Muslims in the Battle of the Bridge, and re-captured Iraq. The second invasion of Iraq was undertaken under Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās who, after defeating the Sassanid army at the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah in 636 A.D, captured Ctesiphon. This was followed by the whole scale invasion ["See":Islamic conquest of Persia.] of the Sassanid Persian Empire. ["See":Islamic conquest of Persia.]


Online resources

* [ A.I. Akram, "The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns" Lahore, 1969]

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