LONDON — Nearly 20 years ago, on the eve of the Persian Gulf war, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi protested when a visiting reporter compared him to Saddam Hussein, rejecting the suggestion that Mr. Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait had caused him to supplant Colonel Qaddafi as the West’s principal nemesis in the Arab world.
“Saddam No. 1 Bad Boy?” he asked incredulously, seated outside his tent in his Tripoli command compound. “No! No! Qaddafi is No. 1. Only Qaddafi!”
As rebels rolled into Tripoli on Sunday and Monday, Colonel Qaddafi’s fate again evoked comparisons to Mr. Hussein. Like the Iraqi leader in 2003, he had vowed to defeat the enemy at the gates of his capital, only to find his outer defenses, including his son Khamis’s widely-feared paramilitary unit, the 32nd Brigade, crumbling under NATO bombs.
In 2003, two of Mr. Hussein’s sons, including his likely heir, fled Baghdad without firing a shot; on Sunday, two other sons of Colonel Qaddafi, including his chosen heir, Seif al-Islam, surrendered quickly to the rebels.
In another respect, too, Colonel Qaddafi appeared to have emulated the former Iraqi leader. As tumult gripped his capital, he disappeared. As American tanks seized the center of Baghdad, Mr. Hussein stood atop a Volkswagen Passat outside one of Baghdad’s principal Sunni mosques and promised to stand with his people.
He then disappeared for eight months until he surfaced again, literally, into the custody of American troops standing over his spider hole. In Colonel Qaddafi’s last radio address, he dismissed the Libyan rebels as “rats,” before he, too, vanished.
But the intense fighting around the Libyan leader’s Bab al-Aziziya command compound in central Tripoli suggested another parallel with Mr. Hussein. Rebel commanders on the ground appeared to have concluded that Colonel Qaddafi, after months of NATO bombing that had obliterated almost everything above ground in the compound, had retreated into a vast underground complex — a last-ditch refuge similar to those that Mr. Hussein constructed underneath several of his Baghdad palaces.
With elements of Colonel Qaddafi’s presidential guard reported as having defected in accordance with a deal cut earlier with rebel leaders, the Libyan leader appeared to be standing his ground, as he has always said he would.
But NATO and the rebels had another possibility to deal with, a nightmare that traced back to what happened in Baghdad: that Colonel Qaddafi, taking a leaf from Mr. Hussein, had allowed much of his capital to be taken quickly as part of a tactical retreat that was preliminary to entrapping the rebels, or to a longer-term fight of the kind that evolved into the insurgency in Iraq, still unsuppressed after more than eight years and tens of thousands of dead.