For freshman Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), yesterday was a beginning marked by turmoil and contradiction. Convinced only a few days ago that war against Iraq was justified, Moran reversed himself at the last minute and voted against military action.

In the first major action of his congressional career, Moran abandoned a position he had held as late as Friday and voted to bar any immediate assault on Iraq. Moran said he changed his mind in part because of an outpouring of anti-war sentiment from his constituents at a town meeting he held Friday night.

Moran's stance put him in the minority among the Washington area's lawmakers, most of whom voted to give President Bush power to wage war after Tuesday. The four senators from Maryland and Virginia split evenly on the issue, but six of the region's 10 House members endorsed military action.

Those who voted against military action were Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) and Moran.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) cannot vote on the House floor, but spoke against intervention.

Morella was one of only three House Republicans to oppose the resolution favored by Bush.

Those who voted to allow military intervention were Virginia Sens. John W. Warner (R) and Charles S. Robb (D); Maryland Reps. Tom McMillen (D), Beverly B. Byron (D) and Wayne T. Gilchrest (R); and Virginia Republican Reps. Frank R. Wolf and D. French Slaughter.

Though several lawmakers on both sides said the choice was an agonizing one, few were as public in their indecision as Moran. In a lengthy interview Wednesday, Moran said he did not believe that economic sanctions alone would dislodge the Iraqi army from Kuwait.

"I think we are going to have to give the president power to make a clear, present and terminal military threat" against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Moran said. "If you don't have an offensive threat, Saddam will go into hibernation and sanctions will not work."

But Friday night in Alexandria, Moran invited the public to join him to discuss the Persian Gulf crisis. Several hundred people attended what Moran described as an emotional session; he said a clear majority opposed military action now. Moran also said that telephone calls and letters to his office were running against war by a ratio of 20 to 1.

Moran said he was surprised by the sentiment in his district, which includes several military bases. He acknowledged that public feelings had a major effect on his position.

"There's a balance we in Congress have to strike between leadership and representation," Moran said. "I'm convinced the vast majority of the constituency that elected me to represent them is not prepared to go to war.

"They are convinced there is still negotiating room. I also think they are prepared ultimately to go to war once we have exhausted all the alternatives."

Moran said he remains concerned about the vote he cast because he questions whether Saddam will respond to anything other than force. "But I have to ask myself, if my son or daughter were over there, could I go to war," he said. "I couldn't."

Yesterday's vote also was particularly difficult for Morella, because it put her among the tiny group of Republicans who have publicly opposed the president on the Persian Gulf issue. "I had sleepless nights," she said.

"But it seems to me that {if Congress had preempted military action}, the president could come back at any time and get authorization, and get it very quickly. I've supported the president from the very beginning, and I think he has done an excellent job."

Morella said that her district -- a predominantly Democratic portion of Montgomery County -- appears also to oppose military intervention now. "I'm not sure we have made every effort to resolve this through peaceful means," Morella said. "And I think the international community has placed an unfair burden on the United States {in the gulf}.

"This is a matter of conscience, constituents and country. And I simply cannot support military action in good conscience now."