The Washington area's members of Congress are deeply split over the prospect of war in the Persian Gulf, with half favoring offensive military action against Iraq but a vocal minority strongly opposed to any attack.

In a division that crosses geographic and partisan lines, six of 12 local lawmakers say they will support a congressional resolution giving President Bush authority to move against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after Jan. 15. But three say they will oppose any immediate move toward war, and three are unwilling to discuss the issue publicly.

Disagreement on the issue is sharpest in the Senate, where Virginia's John W. Warner (R) and Charles S. Robb (D) say they believe quick military action is warranted, while Maryland Democrats Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski adamantly oppose it.

Warner, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that "the time has come . . . for us to show that we concur with the judgment of the president. We must support the president." Sarbanes, one of the Bush administration's most outspoken critics on gulf policy, said, "We should maintain our patience and resolve," relying on economic sanctions to weaken Iraq.

In the House, a resolution that would authorize combat has the support of Reps. Tom McMillen (D-Md.), Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and D. French Slaughter (R-Va.). Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) opposes attacking Iraq. Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) declined to state their positions.

McMillen, saying "I'm not sure that sanctions are a strategy that's workable," said he plans to support "a United Nations-type resolution" that would allow Bush to initiate hostilities against Iraq when he believes it necessary. Norton said she believes Bush is moving precipitately toward war and is asking Congress for "a blank check" of approval.

Regardless of their opinions on gulf policy, however, virtually all the area's lawmakers said they believe the Constitution requires Bush to get Congress's permission before going to war.

Most were unusually cautious in discussing the issue, clearly concerned by the possibility of bloodshed. Along with the three lawmakers who declined to state their views, two others declined to speak directly with a reporter, sending a written statement or communicating through a press secretary.

Those who did talk did so carefully. "I'm new at this, and I really don't need to be telling other people what to do," said Gilchrest, who was sworn in last week. "I hate to say that {combat is necessary}. I'm not ready for armed intervention yet.

"But up to this time the president has acted wisely," Gilchrest said. "I think the Congress needs to act just as wisely. As a first step, Congress should say we support 100 percent the United Nations resolutions" saying military action against Iraq is justified.

Said Norton, also a congressional freshman, "I had hoped my first speech {on the House floor} would be about the District, but it looks like it's going to be about the Gulf. I'm afraid the president has moved ahead on a rigid deadline, leaving himself no room to do other than proceed" toward war.

Moran became one of the first politicians to publicly question Bush's Gulf policy last August, questioning whether the decision to move U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia invited confrontation. He said this week that, in retrospect, Bush's moves were sound.

"I think Congress is going to have to give the president power to make a clear, present and terminal military threat" to Iraq, Moran said. "We have to give him some latitude."

One of the area's strongest supporters of a resolution giving Bush authority to attack is Robb. Although he said he personally would prefer to give economic sanctions more time to work, Robb said Bush's decisions have committed the country to a course it must follow.