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"We don’t have much time, as you well know. They’ll be here with Sardaukar disguised as Harkonnens at the first opportunity."
Leto Atreides I regarding the approaching Siege of Arrakeen to Thufir Hawat[src]

The Desert War, also known as the Harkonnen war or more formally as the Arrakis Affair, was a major conflict which took place primarly on the desert planet Arrakis, with foundations as early as the 10150s AG, but officially beginning in 10191 AG and ending in 10196 AG. It marked the fall of the Corrinos from power and the rise of a new empire.

The war originated with the feud between the Atreides and the Harkonnens dating back to the Battle of Corrin and stemmed more directly from Emperor Shaddam IV's fear of the dangerous popularity of Duke Leto Atreides in the Landsraad. It officially began as a War of Assassins, but escalated into a large scale conflict. It was fought between House Atreides, the Fremen people and their allies and House Harkonnen, which was supported by the Imperial House Corrino and later the other Great Houses.

The war essentially ended with a decisive Atreides-Fremen victory in the Battle of Arrakeen, but the Affair was not officially over until nearly three years later, when Shaddam IV was replaced by Paul Atreides as Padishah Emperor.


Prelude (10153-10191)[]

Pardot Kynes[]

"We must do a thing on Arrakis never before attempted for an entire planet. We must use man as a constructive ecological force—inserting adapted terraform life: a plant here, an animal there, a man in that place— to transform the water cycle, to build a new kind of landscape."
Pardot Kynes regarding the transformation of Arrakis to the Fremen[src]

The Desert War had its first roots secretly planted when Padishah Emperor Elrood Corrino IX appointed the ecologist Pardot Kynes as Imperial Planetologist on Arrakis in the year 10153 AG.

Kynes' opportunity to shape the planet came when he was exploring the landscape in a one-man groundcar behind the Shield Wall, near the village of Windsack, one hot afternoon when he stumbled onto six Harkonnen bravos, shielded and fully armed, bullying three Fremen youths. It was a common scene, more slapstick than real, but Kynes realized that the bullies intended to kill the boys; one was down with a severed artery, two of the bravos were down, but it was still four armed men against two.

Kynes triggered his own shield, waded in and had silently had two of the Harkonnens dead with a slip-tip. He dodged a sword thrust, slit the third's throat with a neat entrisseur, and the remaining Harkonnen was felled by the two Fremen youths, as he saved the lad on the ground. The Fremen were confused; he was a known Imperial servant, but was also an ally. The inexperienced youths by two days later, took him to Windshack owing him a mortal obligation. There he talked to the Fremen about water, grass, about palmaries filled with date palms and open qanats flowing across the desert.

Kynes never saw the behind-the-scenes debate raging all around him. He knew the location of a major sietch and talked like a madman, he was a water burden for the sietch and also a servant of the Imperium. He did kill Harkonnens but anyone had; he just saved three fool youths and had seen crysknives. Eventually the tau of the sietch voiced the decision. Kynes was talking to a group that spread around him about open water, walking in the open without stillsuits, and portyguls, when Uliet, an experienced fighter, was sent with a consecrated knife to kill him, with two watermen to get his water from the body. Kynes said "Remove yourself" to Uliet who stood before him, and went on talking about secret windtraps, brushing past the man opening his for his ceremonial blow.

Uliet inexplicably, in a riddling gesture, perhaps motivated by Kynes' visionary words, walked three paces and deliberately fell on his own knife, thus "removing" himself. This was taken to be a sign by the Fremen that Kynes was to be listened to. Eventually, most Fremen took to Kynes' vision for Arrakis' future. Kynes returned to his Imperial post, directing the Biological Testing Station bringing Fremen as personnel, stealing tools like cutterays, used to dig underground catchbasins and hidden windtraps and collect water in the basins. Kynes was hailed as an umma, a prophet. Men, women and children went anywhere he ordered, and many died during their "missions". He set up small-unit experiments with regular interchange of data for a swift Tansley effect, accumulating millions of tiny information. He organized only isolated and rough run-through tests to put their difficulties into perspective.

Kynes had the Fremen collect copious amounts of data on the climate, biology and ecosystems of the planet. Through his research, sandtrout were discovered. Indeed, it was through the sandtrout that Kynes learned the relationship between the spice and Shai-hulud. After discovering how melange was created, Pardot Kynes turned his attention to planting greenery. First he began with a certain poverty grass, then moved to many others. Kynes married into a Fremen sietch and had a son, Liet Kynes whom he taught (along with the other Fremen children) ecology and the "language" of Arrakis, of its landscape, climate, seasonal limits, and finally how to break through all ideas of force into the awareness of order.

However, he was killed in a cave-in at Plaster Basin when Liet was nineteen. Liet continued his father's work, both in an official capacity as Imperial Planetologist, but also as Fremen leader, steering them as a people toward an ultimate goal, one that Pardot Kynes had envisioned would take approximately five hundred years.

Great Spice War[]

Main article: Great Spice War

The Illustrated Dune - The Sardaukar Warriors (art by John Schoenherr)

The Great Spice War

In 10175 AG, just a year after Pardot's death on distant Arrakis, the 81st Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV declared the Great Spice War after news from his childhood friend Count Fenring that Project Amal, a major project to create artifical spice he had begun on Ix, was almost complete. The purpose of the Great Spice War was to prevent any Landsraad Great Houses from resisting the use of Amal as an alternative to the spice melange once it was complete. Half the captured spice was to go to the Spacing Guild and the other half would go to CHOAM as a reward for their cooperation.

Targets of the War included Zanovar, where House Taligari was devastated and Shaddam's half-brother Tyros Reffa killed, Korona, a research moon of Richese tipped off by the Harkonnens, and Beakkal, where civil war ensued. The Emperor finally travelled to Arrakis to remove the last obstacle to Amal dependency. After Shaddam ordered the eradication of all life on the planet, the Spacing Guild immediately withdrew all heighliner use to the Emperor and the five heighliners vanished back into space leaving the Emperor and his men stranded.

The war had ended in disaster for the Imperial House due to both this and the fact that Amal was never completed to perfection before the Battle of Ix. After Shaddam's great humiliation at the end of the war, the Padishah Emperor faced possible censorship of the royal Crown at a special convocation of the Landsraad. After Shaddam's half-hearted, and near hypocritical defense of his actions of the previous years, his distaff cousin Duke Leto Atreides stepped in to defend his cousin, gave a spell-binding speech in defense of House Corrino. As a symbol and token of fealty to the Emperor, Leto gave the blade the Emperor had given him nineteen years earlier following his Trial by Forfeiture back to him.

Shaddam's trap[]

"There it is, Piter—the biggest mantrap in all history. And the Duke’s headed into its jaws."
Vladimir Harkonnen admiring Shaddam's trap[src]

In 10190 AG, Shaddam began to feel threatened by Leto, who had by this time trained a small army under Thufir Hawat, Gurney Halleck and Duncan Idaho well enough to rival the Sardaukar.

Despite his deep reluctance for his actions, Shaddam decided to conspire with House Harkonnen, the long time rivals of the Atreides family. Shaddam and Baron Vladimir Harkonnen took to pressuring Leto into surrendering the fief of his native planet, Caladan, and to take over the administration and spice mining operations of Arrakis. House Atreides took control of Arrakis in 10191 AG, as according to the Emperor's plan. A spy was also placed with the Atreides - Dr Wellington Yueh.

When Leto accepted the fief, Count Hasimir Fenring ceased being the planet's Imperial Regent and was instead given provisional control of the Atreides homeworld, Caladan. Though he served as Siridar-Absentia there at the behest of Shaddam, Fenring took little interest in his new backwater fief, and the people cared little for him in return.

War of Assassins (10191)[]

"Knowing where the trap is—that’s the first step in evading it. This is like single combat, Son, only on a larger scale—a feint within a feint within a feint ... seemingly without end. The task is to unravel it."
Leto Atreides I explains the War of Assassins to Paul Atreides[src]

Shortly after their arrival on Arrakis, the Duke observed that they had entered an undeclared War of Assassins, but it had not yet achieved full scale. Meanwhile, the Fremen people came to develop a relationship with the Duke through his even-handedness and generosity. Moreover, the Duke sent his Warmaster Duncan Idaho as an advance ambassador, and through Duncan's abilities as a warrior the Atreides managed to ellicit the trust of the Fremen, and the Duke quickly learned that the Fremen were a powerful force with which to align his House.

The Atreides also began to gain hints of knowledge of Liet, who had become as much of a great figure as his father, unaware that Planetologist Kynes was indeed Liet. The Planetologist observed that Paul was able to fit his stillsuit the right way, leading him to join many other Fremen in believing him to be the Lisan al-Gaib who would lead them to paradise.

Raid on Giedi Prime[]

"Use some of Idaho’s men. And perhaps some of the Fremen would enjoy a trip off planet. A raid on Giedi Prime —there are tactical advantages to such a diversion, Thufir."
Leto Atreides I regarding the upcoming raid to Thufir Hawat

The Duke soon ordered Thufir Hawat to coordinate a raid on Giedi Prime, the Harkonnen homeworld, in order to destroy the (supposedly secret) spice hoards the Baron Harkonnen kept there for the purpose of resale. The raid was both daring and successful, and provided a morale boost to the homesick Atreides army, which had been uncertain about its future after the move from their ancestral home of Caladan, and it served to prepare the troops for the looming war with House Harkonnen, which both Hawat and the Duke were certain would come swiftly.

It also demonstrated the quality of Atreides military intelligence. Most importantly, it struck at the very heart of House Harkonnen, and served as further example to the Landsraad of Atreides courage and audacity. Perhaps most brilliant of all however, was that, much to the Baron's ire, House Harkonnen could not exact retribution because the Emperor had deemed such spice hoarding as highly illegal during the Great Spice War.

Siege of Arrakeen[]

"Who would think of reviving artillery in this day of shields? But it was predictable the Duke’s men would run for those caves. And the Emperor will appreciate my cleverness in preserving the lives of our mutual force."
Vladimir Harkonnen explains the strategy of the Siege[src]

In March, after a supposed asssassination attempt on Leto's son Paul using a hunter-seeker, Dr Yueh lowered the defensive house shields and used sedative drugs to disable Leto, Paul, and Jessica, leaving the Atreides leaderless and disorganized under the Harkonnen and Sardaukar military onslaught in the Siege of Arrakeen, intended to finish the War of Assassins in a decisive victory. This attack marked the beginning of true war.


The Siege of Arrakeen

It was during the siege that Thufir Hawat came to discover the true abilities of the Fremen. At one stage, Hawat and approximately twenty Atreides troops under his command were holed up in a cave while retreating from the Harkonnen and Sardaukar advance. Through a bond he had formed with a Fremen warrior, Hawat came to observe a skirmish between a dozen Sardaukar and a few Fremen where, after the dust had settled, only the Fremen remained standing. Moreover, he also saw that a troop carrier filled with approximately 300 Sardaukar soldiers was destroyed, killing all 300 soldiers, when a Fremen flying an ornithopter made a kamikaze run at the carrier. It was through these actions that the Mentat came to realise - belatedly - that the Fremen were a formidable force that could have been a powerful ally for his Duke.

The Atreides army was indeed ultimately crushed, but a few key remnants managed to escape. Paul and Jessica, meanwhile, were sent into the desert to die. Because of the use of truthsayers in the Empire, the Baron Harkonnen needed to be able to say truthfully that he was not (directly) responsible for their deaths. However, this plan was foiled by arrangements made by Yueh (he hated the Baron and wished to at least save Paul and Jessica) and Paul and Jessica managed to kill their captors and escape into the desert, leaving the Harkonnens to believe that they died in a coriolis storm.

Death of the Duke[]

"There is a legend that the instant the Duke Leto Atreides died a meteor streaked across the skies above his ancestral palace on Caladan."
―the Princess Irulan in Introduction to a Child’s History of Muad’Dib[src]

Leto shortly before his death

Yueh, eager for a shot at killing the baron he so deeply despised and knowing he wouldn't have the chance, planted a fake tooth in the Duke Leto's mouth. When bitten, the tooth would emit a poison that would be fatal to both Leto, and hopefully, the Baron. When Yueh handed over Leto, the Baron killed Yueh. Leto, still paralyzed, but conscious, attempted to kill the Baron by breaking the gas capsule, but misjudged his moment, and was only successful in killing the Baron's adviser and Mentat, Piter de Vries.

Escalation of the conflict (10191-10193)[]

Following the Siege and their escape into the desert, Paul and Jessica initially met up with Planetologist Liet-Kynes and Atreides Swordmaster Duncan Idaho, hiding in a botanical testing station abandonded long ago. However, they were not there long before the station was attacked by Sardaukar, who kill Duncan. Paul and Jessica flde to the deep desert in an ornithopter, parting ways with Dr Kynes. They let the Harkonnens think they had died from a coriolis storm.

In the deep desert, under the pressure of extreme circumstances and the increased doses of Spice that he has been ingesting simply by living on Arrakis, some of Paul's powers came into fruition, and his ability to see possible futures exploded into awareness. He saw many things, a way out of his situation, and the restoration of the Atreides, if only he could make contact with the native Fremen and survive.

After a dangerous crossing of the desert, Paul and Jessica managed to meet up with a troop of Fremen. Paul and Jessica proved their worth by disarming Fremen in unarmed combat, aided by Bene Gesserit prana-bindu training – the "Weirding Way" – and the Fremen leader Stilgar gladly accepted them into his troop because he would like to add that skill to the Fremen people. Paul also met a young woman, Chani, daughter of Liet Kynes, whom he had long seen in his dreams. During this scuffle, Paul disarmed a proud Fremen, Jamis, who took offence at this "presumptuous" youth, and challenged Paul to a fight to the death. Although at first unwilling to kill, he triumphed easily, making his name in the tribe, and also succeeding to the position of head of the household of the dead man. Stilgar gave Paul the name Usul – meaning "the strong base of a pillar" – as his private name within the troop; Paul gave himself the name "Paul Muad'dib" as his public Fremen name.

When they returned to the troop's sietch, they discovered the Fremen Reverend Mother was near death, and with the fortuitous arrival of Jessica, a Bene Gesserit, they made Jessica their Sayyadina. Jessica, not realizing the consequences of what the Fremen were about to do, accepted to cement her place in the tribe. Halfway through the process she realized she has made a mistake, that she was involved in a similar process to how the Bene Gesserit make their own Reverend Mothers who could see genetic memories, and realized that the baby in her womb, fathered by Leto before his death, would also go through the process. This had truly unfortunate consequences, because it was a Bene Gesserit teaching that any such baby would not have the strength to withstand the memories of its ancestors.

Hawat with the Harkonnens[]

Meanwhile, Thufir Hawat was taken prisoner and forced him into his service. This was done by introducing a poison into Hawat's blood, for which only the Harkonnens maintained the antidote. Baron Harkonnen saw this as a personal victory, because of Hawat's reputation, because Hawat had foiled many of the Baron's plans against the Atreides, and because the Baron's own Mentat, Piter de Vries, had been killed by Duke Leto just before he died.

While in the service of the Harkonnens, Hawat used his considerable talents to manipulate the Harkonnens to some degree, through political manoeuvring and assassination. Hawat had attempted to create a rift between the Baron and his nephew, Feyd Rautha Harkonnen, by using a captive Atreides warrior as a means to kill Feyd in the gladiator ring. While Hawat knew the plan would ultimately fail because of the unfair advantage Feyd would give himself, the warrior had almost succeeded. Instead of facing a drugged slave, Hawat arranged for Feyd to confront a trained Atreides soldier with his capacities fully intact. As a result, the Baron's game trainer was executed for putting Feyd in danger, which left the position vacant to be filled by one of Feyd's men.

For two years, Hawat remained in the service of the Harkonnens, plotting and scheming in subtle ways, ultimately hoping to seek revenge against those who killed his "beloved Duke", as well as against whom he believed to be the Ttaitor, the Lady Jessica. Moreover, Hawat took the defeat of the Atreides as a personal failure, and therefore believed that if he continued to scheme and manipulate inside the Harkonnen House, as well as exact revenge against the traitor, he may be able to redeem himself in some way. Indeed, he very nearly brought down the Harkonnens from within, playing the ambitions of the na-Baron Feyd-Rautha against his uncle.


Back on Arrakis, by November 10193 AG, Paul had become something of a religious leader among the Fremen. Chani became his lover and bore him a son, whom he called Leto. He and his mother trained the Fremen of Sietch Tabr and other Fremen who sought out Paul in his religious guise, in the Weirding Way, the Bene Gesserit's prana-bindu fighting techniques. Under his leadership his "Fedaykin" experienced victory after victory against the Harkonnens, and Paul's prestige and aura among the Fremen grew. However, in order to be truly accepted by the Fremen he had to become a sandrider. Paul attempted it and succeeded, becoming a full member of the sietch.

The same day, a band of smugglers sought melange too deep in the desert, and the Fremen of Sietch Tabr sprung a trap. In the middle of the battle Paul recognised his weapons teacher, Gurney Halleck, and called on him and his men to surrender. Gurney was overjoyed and overwhelmed in equal measure. He surrendered his men, and joined Paul's service. Among Gurney's men, however, were some Imperial spies who attempted to kill Paul. They were unsuccessful, and they were captured by the Fedaykin. Paul gave secret orders for the spies to be allowed to escape, so that they would reveal that Paul Atreides still lived on Arrakis.

Taking advantage of recruiting Gurney Halleck, Paul used the moment to solve his leadership problem. Since he had become a wormrider many of his followers had expected him to challenge Stilgar, his greatest friend among the Fremen, in order to take control of Sietch Tabr. But Paul broke tradition and in doing so forced Stilgar to do the same, managing to sidestep this issue by proclaiming himself the ruling Duke of Arrakis, and thus took power without killing his friend. They returned to Sietch Tabr. Gurney was shocked to discover Jessica is still alive, because he believed she was the one who betrayed the Atreides and that Paul did not know. Gurney was about to kill her when Paul walked in, managed to stop him, and explained that Yueh was the traitor. Gurney was almost broken by his nearly fatal and tragic error, but Jessica forgived him and he was bound even further into Atreides and Jessica's service.

Beginning of the Arrakis Revolt[]

"And it came to pass in the third year of the Desert War that Paul-Muad’Dib lay alone in the Cave of Birds beneath the kiswa hangings of an inner cell. And he lay as one dead, caught up in the revelation of the Water of Life, his being translated beyond the boundaries of time by the poison that gives life. Thus was the prophecy made true that the Lisan al Gaib might be both dead and alive."
Princess Irulan Corrino regarding Paul's transformation in Collected Legends of Arrakis

Paul's power among the Fremen grew, but he was still frustrated. He was not all he could be: he could not control his journeys into the future, and much of it was still blank to him. So he took a truly risky step and consumed a tiny amount of spice essence, and so attempted to perform the male equivalent of the Reverend Mother ceremony. Previously to this no man had survived this experience, and it seemed that he failed also, because he sank into a coma. Paul neglected to tell anyone what he is doing; many people thought he is dead, although others, primarily the Fedaykin, believed he is in a religious trance. His mother, Jessica, did all she can to wake him but failed, so out of desperation she called Chani from the deep desert to help.

Chani, through her more personal knowledge of Paul's dreams and desires, realised what a mad thing Paul has done, and used spice essence converted by Jessica using her powers as a Reverend Mother to bring him out of his trance. For Paul no time had passed, and he gloried in his new memories and powers — he told his mother and Chani immediately that the Emperor himself was currently orbiting the planet with many Sardaukar, ready to attack. He had proven the Bene Gesserit wrong: he was the Kwisatz Haderach, appearing one generation ahead of the prediction. He declared that it was now time to destroy the Harkonnens.

Fremen attacks on the Harkonnens had already managed to almost entirely stop the flow of the spice from Arrakis. This forced the Emperor to act, and he came to Arrakis with all his Sardaukar, and also levied of all the other noble houses, to annihilate the Fremen if necessary in order to get the spice flowing again. By now the Emperor was aware of who Muad'Dib was. In advance of his arrival, he sent a large Sardaukar force into the deep desert for information. Attacking a sietch, they managed to kill Paul's son, and capture Alia – Paul's sister – but were driven off by Fremen children, old people and women.

Battle of Arrakeen (10193)[]

After the Emperor himself had landed in December, Paul launched the final attack. Using the House Atriedes' family atomics (nuclear weapons) that his men managed to retrieve after the Harkonnen attack, he blew a hole in the Shield Wall that protected the capital of Arrakeen from the surrounding desert and its fierce storms. By using the weapons this way, he narrowly avoided contravening the universal ban against using atomics on people, which would have required the other noble houses to retaliate with "planetary annihilation".

The Fremen attacked under cover of a huge desert storm, riding sandworms from the desert through the hole in the Shield Wall. The great static force of the sandstorm then shorted out all of the Sarduakar's defensive shields. The first two waves of the Battle were commanded by Gurney Halleck and the third was commanded by Korba. Even the Sardaukar were unable to withstand the full force of the Atreides, the Fremen and their allies, caught as they were in total surprise, and Shaddam was forced to surrender. The combined forces of the Landsraad still loomed in orbit around the planet, but Paul threatened to destroy the Spice if any of them try to land, and they backed off. In the surprise of Muad'Dib's attack, Alia managed to escape, and in the process killed the Baron Harkonnen.

Upon discovering that he had been unknowingly working against Paul under the service of Baron Harkonnen, Thufir Hawat committed suicide. He felled himself on a poison needle hidden in his left hand meant for Paul, who offered him his own life for all of Hawat's service to House Atreides. Hawat, rather than kill the son of his beloved Duke, gave his life for the Atreides one last time.

Realizing that Muad'Dib was not some mad Fremen religious leader changed the situation dramatically for the Emperor. Feyd-Rautha, the Baron's nephew, an acclaimed gladiator, challenged Paul to single combat; claiming rights of kanly as had been declared by Paul's father Leto. Paul agreed even knowing that it is possible he would die. The Emperor gave the blade which Duke Leto had given back to him eighteen years earlier to Feyd in a symbol of the end of his respect for the Atreides. After a difficult fight during which Feyd-Rautha attempted treachery in the form of a poisoned knife and needle, Paul eventually triumphed.

The Emperor then ordered Count Fenring to kill Paul, but he refused as they both realised, looking into each other's eyes, that he was a failed Kwisatz Haderach.

Fall of House Corrino (10193-10196)[]

Paul refused to take any more nonsense. He forced the Emperor from the throne by the simple expedience of taking power from the real rulers of the Empire – the Spacing Guild – who controlled space travel. He again threatened to destroy the spice if they did not ship all the troops home. The Spacing Guild had no choice – their limited powers of prophecy showed Paul is capable of it – and they sent everyone home.

The Emperor abdicated and retired to Salusa Secundus in 10196. Paul married the Emperor's eldest daughter, Irulan, and assumed control of the Empire. Irulan later wrote extensively on the subject of Muad'Dib, having nothing of him but knowledge of his lifestyle and patterns of thought.

Aftermath (Post 10196)[]

After Shaddam's abdication, Paul procceed to send a Fremen jihad across the Known Universe for the first twelve years of his reign. Finally in a position of power to reward his old friends, he made Stilgar Governor of Arrakis and Minister of State, and Gurney Halleck ruler of Giedi Prime, which had been run by the people of Caladan since the near-total annihilation of the Harkonnens. Gurney renamed the planet Gammu, although this name did not remain for long before it became known as Giedi Prime again.

Meanwhile, Shaddam had by no means yet entirely accepted his fate and that of his family in exile. He began openly putting his Sardaukar through landing maneuvers, an act which would nevertheless be stopped by Irulan on Paul's orders. His youngest daughter Wensicia Corrino married the nobleman Dalak Fenring, cousin of Hasimir Fenring, and they had a son, Farad'n Corrino, who was intended to be Emperor when the Corrinos eventually regained the throne. After failing to kill Paul with the Emperor's Blade, which Shaddam now gave away once more to the Count, Hasimir also helped Shaddam oversee the creation of a massive ghola army that the former Emperor was going to use to try to take back the Empire from Muad'Dib. Ultimately, none of this was successful and the Atreides remained on the throne long after the end of the Corrino line.