Trapped in a Baghdad hotel last Wednesday, Samir Vincent was faced with two choices: stay and suffer under the boot of the Iraqi dictatorship or take a chance and flee.
With the atmosphere becoming more hostile by the day, Vincent, a geophysicist from Annandale, said he made a pact with Illinois businessman Michael Saba: they would pool their resources and make a run for it.
Neither of them knew what possible dangers, if any, lay ahead, but they did know that they had to leave before the situation grew any more tense.
"The day after the crisis started, the American embassy called a meeting of U.S. citizens in our hotel in Baghdad, but the officials were very ambivalent about information they had and they said everyone was on their own," Vincent said.
"We decided to take the situation into our own hands, believing that the most the Iraqi authorities could do was to turn us back at the border," said Vincent, who had been in Baghdad for a week negotiating with an American company on behalf of his employer, Phoenix International of McLean.
He and Saba hired a taxi for $50 each to take them to the Iraqi border with Jordan, where they hoped U.S. embassy officials had arranged transport to take them to Amman.
The men met no resistance from the Iraqi border troops, who waved them through in a matter of minutes after checking their passports and determining that they had not broken through any roadblocks. But once over the checkpoint, they found themselves in a deserted "no-man's land" without transport.
Vincent and Saba had anticipated a long walk through the desert and had packed plentiful supplies of food and water, but they managed to reach Amman in just a few hours by hitch-hiking the 50 miles on trucks.
Once in the Jordanian city, Vincent said his first thoughts were to tell his family he was safe and well and that he would be catching a flight home the following day.
Speaking by telephone from his Northern Virginia home, Vincent, who refused to discuss details such as his age or his family, said: "We managed to get out before things got too dificult. The journey out of Iraq was quite uneventful."
Nevertheless, he said he was "very relieved" to be home and was now concerned about the safety of other Americans and foreigners.
Saba, who was in Baghdad planning an international trade conference in Bahrain, said he decided to flee because his wife was 8 1/2 months pregnant.
He said he and Vincent had escaped on what was probably the last day they could have used that route and that other Americans could have followed if the embassy had let them know.
Since returning to the United States, Vincent said he has spoken with other Americans who managed to leave Iraq via the same route. One of the escapees said he and several Americans, Britons and French had hitched a ride on a German bus that had been waiting on the Jordanian side of the border to pick up its citizens.
He said he was reluctant to go into depth about his ordeal because he was "very tired" by what had happened.
"I am just very relieved to be back with my family, and I hope that the other Americans and foreigners out there will be able to return to their homes," he said.