THE last remaining American hostage in Lebanon, Terry Anderson, was on the verge of freedom yesterday after six years and nine months of captivity.Mr. Anderson's planned release, signaled by the Islamic Jihad group that has held him hostage, followed the now-familiar pattern established by those of the eight other Western hostages who have been set free since the kidnappers said in August that they were ready to end their captives' ordeal. It was always expected that Anderson would be the last of the United States hostages to go free. As chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press, he was regarded by the kidnappers as their most valued card. That prediction has held true, but only just. As it turned out, Anderson was to be freed barely 24 hours after college professor Alann Steen, who himself was following hot on the heels of university accountant Joseph Cicippio. The sudden plethora of releases made it clear that the last remaining hostages had ceased to have an individual value in the eyes of their captors. They were being freed wholesale as the final chapter of the long hostage saga drew to a close with a speed that contrasted starkly with the halting pace of earlier releases over the years. The final releases were set in motion by a United Nations-brokered accord reached in Damascus last weekend under which, the kidnappers say, priority was to be given to the freeing of the remaining Western hostages. Only then would attention turn to the loosely-related issues of the 300 or so Lebanese detained by the Israelis and the Israeli servicemen missing in Lebanon. But Anderson was not abducted on a West Beirut street-corner for the sake of Lebanese incarcerated in the south of the country. Like the other Western hostages seized by various groups during the 1980s, he was a pawn caught up in a wider game of nations. Some of Anderson's fellow-hostages from that same early period, also held by the Islamic Jihad group, are known to have been released in exchange for US arms deliveries to Iran. They were Fr. Lawrence Jenco, the Rev. Benjamin Weir, and David Jacobsen. Well-placed Shiite sources in Beirut reported early last year that Iran had decided to "close the hostage file" once and for all. Cash-strapped after its grueling war with Iraq, it badly needed to move toward normal relations with the West. There were many false starts and disruptions, especially because of the Gulf conflict. But with word of Anderson's imminent release, the process has finally ended. Two Germans remain in captivity, but their case - linked to the imprisonment of two Lebanese Shiite radicals in Germany - is politically different from that of the other Western hostages. During his long incarceration, Anderson suffered the agony of seeing new hostages arrive long after him, and leave before. Among them were the Britons John McCarthy and Brian Keenan, as well as Terry Waite, the man sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury to try to win freedom for Anderson and hostage Thomas Sutherland. According to those released, Anderson was kept from despair by long conversations with his fellow-inmates - and by a bedside photograph of the daughter he has never seen. His daughter, Sulome, now six years old, was born three months after her father's abduction. During her years of waiting in Nicosia, Sulome herself used to kiss a photograph of Anderson every night at bedtime and say prayers for him to come home.