Nothing has been untouched by this new desert war, not even the windswept celebration yesterday of a man who spent his life in the pursuit of peace, justice and economic promise, the same ideals many common soldiers believe they are fighting for today.

"I had thought there was a danger that Martin Luther King Jr. would become just an icon," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said during a mid-morning ceremony, which drew about 150 people to the Lincoln Memorial for song and prayer to honor the birth of the slain civil rights leader. "I no longer think that."

King's struggle for equality remained etched in Norton's mind these last two weeks as she, and others in Congress, faced the decision whether to support President Bush's desire to take military action against Iraq. At the memorial where King made his "I Have a Dream Speech" in 1963, Norton said the fight for equal representation continues to be fought in the District.

Norton said she spoke twice on the floor of the House of Representatives in the days leading up to the congressional vote that would allow the president to wage war after Jan. 15, the United Nations' deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait.

She said many constituents phoned her to urge that she not approve such action, but as D.C. delegate, she has no vote on the floor of the House.

"I could not vote in your name . . . " Norton said. "We were spared the indignity of war on Jan. 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King. But we have not been spared the indignity of war itself."

While King was born Jan. 15, various ceremonies and memorials honoring him are continuing through Monday, the federal holiday that officially celebrates his birth.

At yesterday's ceremony, Norton and Jesse L. Jackson raised questions about the current status of the District, of black Americans and of the sacrifice many District residents, members of the armed services, are making in the war against Iraq. Listening to the tape of King's speech, which resounded yesterday across the plaza of the memorial, was not enough. Those who heard King's words need to match his resolve, they urged.

Jackson spoke of King's selfless response to the challenge of racism in this country. "That work is not finished," he said. Nagging problems of neglect such as high infant mortality among black people, political attacks on historic civil rights and shrinking economic opportunities are this generation's call to duty, he said.

King "would be challenging us today . . . to turn to each other, not on each other . . . . If he was here today, he would challenge us as a nation to stand for racial justice and measure each other by character, not by color," Jackson said.