Yahia al-Samawi's first collection of poetry was published in 1970 in Iraq. In 1974 he graduated from the Faculty of Literature at Bagdad University, and by 1976 he had published two more poetry collections. However, the political situation in Iraq meant that further publication was not possible. Al-Samawi worked as a teacher and in the media, but he was dismissed from his job and harassed, imprisoned and tortured. After participating in the failed 1991 Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein's regime, he fled from Iraq to Saudi Arabia. His family followed a few weeks later.
Al-Samawi and his family arrived in Adelaide, South Australia in 1997. Al-Samawi has written numerous volumes of poetry and one of prose and he is referred to as a leading Arab poet in the literary journal Kalimat. His poetry has been published in various media in Australia and overseas and has won several prizes. Ala Mahdi, writing in Kalimat no. 9, provides English translations of the titles of As-Samawi's publications up to 2002. They are: Your Eyes Are a Universe, Poems in the Era of Capitivity and Crying, Rituals of Departing the Body, My Heart Aches for My Homeland, A Wound as Large as My Homeland (prose), From the Songs of a Vagabond, Your Eyes Are My Home and Exile, The Choice, Quartets, I Closed My Eyelids over You, and This Is My Tent, Where Is My Home? A number of these were published in Saudi Arabia.