The Washington area's members of Congress and government leaders rallied behind the U.S. assault on Iraq last night, with most abandoning prewar policy differences and voicing concern for American troops in the field.

With several exceptions, local leaders from across the political spectrum said that last night's air strikes should end the national debate on whether war in the Persian Gulf is justified. Most opponents of military action joined with advocates, urging President Bush to pursue a war strategy that will be quick and inflict as few casualties as possible.

"It's clear to me that the debate ended Saturday night," when Congress authorized an attack, said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.). "I was on Capitol Hill all day {yesterday}, in discussions with a number of leaders on both sides of the gulf issue. The overwhelming sentiment was, 'We're with the president.' "

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who strongly opposed U.S. military action, said after last night's air strikes began that the time for argument had passed.

"Like so many people, I had hoped it would not come to this," Mikulski said in a statement. "{But} now that our troops have been called to arms by the president, we must do everything we can to ensure that no American is in battle any longer than is absolutely necessary."

At least two area officials, both D.C. Democrats, continued to question the wisdom of attacking Iraq. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) emphasized that the District has a disproportionately large number of troops at risk in the gulf.

Norton said that the telephone calls and letters she has received from District residents were overwhelmingly against the war. "When I first heard news of missiles in the sky, my first thoughts were of our people, and hoping that none of them were caught in this first battle," she said.

But the harshest words of criticism came from Jesse L. Jackson, who was elected to lobby the Senate for D.C. statehood. "There were no troops in Canada on our border about to bomb us," Jackson said in an interview on Black Entertainment Television after hostilities began. "The order to start war and drop bombs came from President George Bush. Why?

"The sanctions were working. We have forsaken a policy that worked for one that probably will not work."

Jackson said he believes opposition to the war among Americans is so intense that there could be violence by anti-war groups.

But at least three other area politicians who opposed war said last night they would unite behind the president and support the war effort. Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) said that minimizing the loss of life and defeating Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should become the country's primary goals.

"We must rally around the commander-in-chief. We're all in this together," Morella said. "I'm very prayerful about this whole thing."

Hoyer said that "the only thing for us to do in the short term is to support our men and women in the armed forces. Saddam obviously gave nothing to anybody whatsoever. It was almost as if he welcomed this action."

"I think it's time for us {to} be Americans, to stand together," Moran said. "I hope we will hear no further criticism of the president."

Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), a Marine officer who saw action in Vietnam, said the beginning of hostilities triggered his memories of combat. "You take some very deep breaths," Robb said. "You have something in the pit of your stomach you can remember from your past. The only thing we can do now is support our forces, and hope the execution of Operation Desert Storm is carried out with as few casualties as possible on both sides."

Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer said in a statement, "I support the president 100 percent and have faith in his judgment."

Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said that, "With all Americans, I hope that the action will end quickly and with as little bloodshed as possible."

D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon said that although she opposed the decision to go to war, "We are beyond that now, and we will do all we can to support our country."