The United States should have continued the Persian Gulf war until Saddam Hussein was ousted, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Friday.

That came in his first press conference since he became the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees the Middle East. At the same time, however, Hatch doesn't blame President Bush for ending the war when he did."President Bush was in a Catch-22," Hatch said. "He always said that once Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis agreed to meet the United Nations resolutions and conditions, that he would withdraw. I think he felt honor-bound to live up to that decision."

But Hatch added, "It's a tough call for me. My personal belief is they should have gone ahead and gone in and gotten Saddam Hussein. . . . We should have stopped these forces of repression in Iraq.

"On the other hand, those forces of repression are going to be there whether they're Saddam Hussein's or somebody else's. Who knows who's going to be worse as far as the United States is concerned in the future. Some of the Shiite leaders are very anti-U.S. Saddam Hussein's anti-U.S."

Still, Hatch added, "I have to say I'm very disturbed and very hurt and very concerned about the treatment of the Kurds and Shiites and others by Saddam Hussein.

"I hate to see people get slaughtered like this. I hate to see people suffering the way they are suffering. I think our country and other civilized countries ought to do everything we can to help them, certainly give humanitarian assistance at the very least."

Hatch was named ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs two weeks ago, shortly before he took a two-week trip to the Soviet Union and other eastern European countries.