Escape from Saddam is Alsamari's memoir of his flight from Saddam Hussein's Iraq and his struggle to bring his immediate family to safety. It covers about a decade—from late 1993, when Alsamari is conscripted into military service, until 2003, when he is tried in England for embezzling £37,500 from his employer to smuggle his mother and siblings out of Iraq. The path between the two points—escaping from the military, being smuggled out of Iraq, living in Jordan on forged documents, and traveling to England to claim asylum—marks the story of Alsamari's personal growth. At the outset, Alsamari is an 18-year-old youth so determined to pursue the dream of studying in England to become a doctor that he will let his family suffer financial hardship, imprisonment, and torture so he may flee the country. At the end of the memoir, he is a "genuine man" who "never forgets his family."
Alsamari alludes to his emotional connection to Iraq, but the Iraq he describes is one he is desperate to escape. Saddam's Iraq is a place where promotion into the intelligence service is essentially "a prison sentence in itself," forcing one to become a "cog in the massive machine of terror."
The book describes the world of human smuggling, the dangerous and difficult path to asylum, and the cost—financial and emotional—of escaping tyrannical regimes. It gives a glimpse into the world where documents are forged, passports are counterfeited, and money is moved through "convoluted routes." It suggests the porosity of the borders between Iraq and Jordan, Syria, and Turkey.
This is a suspense-filled book: Alsamari is shot during his midnight escape from a military camp but saved when a taxi whisks him to a doctor who removes the bullet by flashlight. He discards incriminating passports in three toilets in the ultramodern Kuala Lumpur airport, but discovering that he needs them, retrieves them four days later, waterlogged but readable.
Parts of the narrative strain credulity. Alone in the desert after Bedouin smugglers have brought him to Jordan's edge, Alsamari finds himself surrounded by wolves, which, even in the dark, he can see are "thin, bony almost, and dirty [with] madness in their eyes." He wounds some with his Beretta and listens to the others eating their "injured—but not yet dead—colleagues." When he flies from Muscat to Kuala Lumpur, like Agent 007, he soon finds his seatmate—a pretty Asian girl returning from hajj (pilgrimage) with her family—resting her head on his shoulder; before long, hajj and family notwithstanding, they are kissing. But the memoir is a slippery genre. As Tennessee Williams says, "Memory takes a lot of poetic license."