But a new element was injected into the debate by a C.I.A. assessment that Saddam Hussein, while now stopping short of an attack, could become "much less constrained" if faced with an American-led force.
The judgment was contained in a letter signed by the deputy C.I.A. director, John McLaughlin, on behalf of George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence. It was alluded to in a hearing of a Congressional panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks and then released tonight, after the House opened its debate on Iraq.
The letter said "Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks" with conventional or chemical or biological weapons against the United States.
"Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist action," it continued. It noted that Mr. Hussein could use either conventional terrorism or a weapon of mass destruction as "his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him."