Post staff writer Barton Gellman {"Saddam's Mainstay Republican Guard Is Key Allied Target," Jan. 21} quotes a War College Study by Stephen C. Pelletiere and Lt. Col. Douglas Johnson Jr. that reports that the average soldier in Iraq's Republican Guard sees himself "as the inheritor of an ancient tradition of war-fighting -- the Iraqis primarily spread the might of Islam in the 7th century."

The Iraq-based Abbasid caliphate was indeed a powerful empire, but its power was not exercised in the 7th century, nor was the "might of Islam" primarily spread by Iraqis. Thus, if Saddam Hussein's troops are looking to an Iraqi past to feed dreams of future military glory, they need to reread their own history.

Early military conquest by the forces of Islam was largely an Arabian and Syrian (i.e. Umayyad) affair. The Abbasids took over territory that had been, for the most part, already conquered by the Umayyads, whose empire at its height reached from Spain in the west almost to the banks of the Indus in the east. The followers of abu-al-Abbas (who referred to himself as "The Blood Shedder") finally drove the Damascus-based Umayyads from their capital in the middle of the 8th century (April 26, 750). They established a new Moslem dynasty in Baghdad that endured until 1258, when the last Abbasid caliph fell to the Mongols.

Under Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809), Baghdad became, arguably, the most civilized city in the world, a place where the arts, philosophy, literature, science and medicine flourished. Thus, under the Abbasids, the "conquests" were largely those of Islam as a religion, of Arabic as a language and of the astonishing flowering of Islamic culture. Military chores and imperial administration were largely delegated to conscripted Persian armies and civil servants.

Ironically for our time, the official name of Baghdad, given by its founder, caliph al-Mansur (754-775), was Madinat al-Salam -- City of Peace.