A large part of the debate on the Persian Gulf conflict focuses on what our ultimate military and political objectives should be.

When I watched the Scud missiles landing in the streets of Tel Aviv and Riyadh, I could not help but think what would have happened if Israel had not taken out Iraq's nuclear facility in 1981.Since voting to support the president on Jan. 12, I have also reflected on what could have happened if the United States had waited a year or more to confront Saddam Hussein's aggression. Those missiles could well have carried chemical, biological or even nuclear warheads, with incredibly tragic results.

Although President Bush has made the liberation of Kuwait the prime objective of this conflict, I have stated from the start that driving Saddam out of Kuwait is not the be-all and end-all. The real issue is not merely punishing an aggressor for trampling an innocent neighbor but also taking away his means to try it again.

Saddam is a threat to the vital interests of the United States. He is a threat to our economy, a threat to world stability and a threat to our friends in the region.

It is clear from Saddam's behavior that he has little or no regard for human life. Only a ruthless aggressor would gas his own people, hurl missiles at civilian populations and torture prisoners of war. This is a man who had to be stopped in his tracks because he clearly had designs on controlling the entire Middle East, its resources and ultimately the world economy.

Clearly, a main objective in this conflict has and should continue to be the removal of Iraq's ability to attack its neighbors in the Middle East. In fact, the completion of that objective is already well under way.

Additionally, since Saddam himself has been the driving force behind the Iraqi aggression, it can be argued that removing him from power falls under the objective of preventing future aggression by Iraq.

By parading Allied POWS in front of television cameras and by launching missiles against civilian targets, Saddam attempted to widen the scope of the war and weaken American public support. These despicable ploys did not work, and I believe they will ultimately come back to haunt him.

In Congress, I have introduced a joint resolution that would hold Saddam accountable for the war crimes committed against American and other Allied prisoners of war. In addition to calling for an international tribunal to prosecute Saddam for violations of the Geneva Convention, the resolution also states that "under no circumstances should the nations allied against Iraq agree to an arrangement whereby Saddam would resign as president of Iraq in exchange for his not being prosecuted for war crimes."

Our military leaders have eloquently stated that the coalition nations have no argument with the people of Iraq. Only Saddam's intimidations and ruthlessness have prevented the Iraqi people from rising up against him. I recently saw an Iraqi soldier on television who said he would fight in the war because "the United States can kill me, but Saddam Hussein can kill my entire family."

The Iraqi public and the entire world community can do without Saddam and his brand of militarism. The liberation of Kuwait is certainly a prime objective of Operation Desert Storm, but we must also look forward to the day when Saddam Hussein and his war machine are effectively eliminated from the world scene.

(Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.)