Were protecting oil supplies the sole reason the United States and its allies sent troops to confront Iraq, the conflict would be over. Mission accomplished.

Oil is plentiful once again.

Reports by the Energy Department, the International Energy Agency and several private firms show that world oil producers have more than made up the 4.3 million barrels of daily supply that formerly came from Iraq and Kuwait. The world is producing at least as much as it consumes, and U.S. stocks of oil and refined products are near normal levels for this time of year. Millions of barrels of unsold low-quality oil are floating in tankers in the Atlantic, waiting for buyers, according to reliable analysts.

These reports do not mean that the United States and other consuming countries are immune to supply shortages if war breaks out or some unforeseen event disrupts the flow of oil, experts agree.

Because virtually all oil producers except Iraq and Kuwait are producing at their maximum, there is "no cushion of unused spare capacity," according to Daniel Yergin, president of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Energy Secretary James D. Watkins said Friday that the world oil market has achieved "a very tight balance . . . which leaves little room for accidents or the whims of nature."

Fear of such a disruption is what keeps the price of crude oil above $25 a barrel when many experts say it would be about $20 if based entirely on supply and demand.

But in the absence of war or some other calamity, the threat of a worldwide oil shortage that loomed when the United Nations placed an embargo on shipments from Iraq and Kuwait has been eliminated. Crude oil prices are well below the $40 peak they reached at the height of the gulf scare, and drifted down nearly all last week although gasoline prices remained near their record highs.

But oil analysts said that if crude oil prices stay down or decline further, refiners, who have been losing money despite the high price of their product, will begin to cut prices more noticeably this week.

At this week's meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna, more discussion is expected about how to keep prices up when the Persian Gulf conflict ends and shipments from Iraq and Kuwait resume than about how to meet current demand, according to OPEC President Sadek Bousena.

Energy Department officials have been meeting with representatives of state governments and oil companies in an attempt to develop a coordinated response to any disruption or consumer panic that might come with war. But most oil industry analysts interviewed in the past few weeks said a short war would probably have little impact on oil shipments from the Persian Gulf.

Watkins, formerly the country's top Navy officer, said in a speech on Friday after a visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates: "I do not believe the Iraqi air force is a threat to Saudi or UAE {oil} fields. Nor can I imagine an effective Iraqi ground attack on these facilities either."

If shooting starts, Watkins said, he will ask President Bush to authorize the sale of "a substantial amount" of oil from the 590-million-barrel Strategic Petroleum Reserve to calm the oil markets and keep prices from shooting upward.

The floating cargoes of unsold oil contain mostly heavy, high-sulfur crude oil from Iran and Saudi Arabia, industry experts said. This kind of oil, known as "sour" crude, is difficult to refine and yields less gasoline per barrel than lighter, "sweet" crudes.

According to the monthly Petroleum Update published by the Washington-based Petroleum Finance Co., Iran and Saudi Arabia "have accumulated stocks totaling over 30 million barrels off the coast of the main Atlantic refining centers as a result of difficulty marketing heavy grades" of oil. Total worldwide daily production is about 65 million barrels.

"There are a lot of unsold cargoes, Iranian and Saudi," said Lawrence J. Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York. "It's being done for two reasons. First, in some minds, the war option isn't completely off the table. The Iranians, therefore, have continued a very high production profile even though there's some resistance in terms of sales. They're putting it on the water so it will be near markets if it's needed.

"The Saudis are doing the same thing for more complicated reasons. If war were to break out, there could be some concern about their infrastructure and facilities. You'd have the advantage of being able to continue sales."

U.S. refiners don't want that oil now because "there's plenty of {refined} product" in domestic storage tanks, said Edward N. Krapels, president of Energy Security Analysis Inc. Refinery utilization, a measure of demand for refined petroleum products, has dropped from more than 90 percent of capacity in September to about 84 percent, according to the Energy Department.

Commercial crude oil stocks in the United States were 346 million barrels in the week ending Nov. 30, the Energy Department reported -- 4.5 million less than in the same week a year earlier, but 1.6 million more than in the previous week. Domestic consumption is averaging 16.8 million barrels a day, down from 17.3 million a year ago.

In the four months since Iraq invaded Kuwait, not only did the world lose the 4.3 million barrels per day that those countries produced, it also lost about 300,000 barrels a day in exports from the Soviet Union, the Paris-based International Energy Agency reported last week. But the worldwide oil balance has been restored by increased production in other OPEC countries -- especially Saudi Arabia -- and in non-OPEC countries and by decreased consumption.

That increased output has covered the 4.3 million barrel loss from Kuwait and Iraq and, "as more mothballed facilities are brought back into production and as efforts are made to step up output from operating facilities and bring new production on line, the available 'relief' could be well over 5 million barrels a day by June," according to Yergin.

Higher prices and an economic slowdown in the industrialized countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have held oil demand to about 1 million barrels a day less than projected, the IEA reported. Developing countries, hit hard by the price increases, are also using less.

The 13 members of OPEC are producing almost as much oil as they did in the first quarter of this year, before the invasion eliminated Iraq and Kuwait from the supply picture. OPEC output was 23.8 million barrels a day in the first quarter, averaged 22 million a day in the July-September period and is now up to 22.8 million, according to Petroleum Update. Goldstein said he believes the OPEC total exceeded 23 million barrels.

More than 60 percent of this "surge production" is coming from Saudi Arabia. After the Persian Gulf conflict is resolved, oil prices are expected to drop sharply as Iraq and Kuwait return to the world market, confronting the Saudis with painful political and economic choices about whether to continue their high output or restrain it to shore up OPEC.