Dubai: Petromal, the oil and gas explorer funded by Abu Dhabi, aims to take advantage of its cash-rich position and turmoil in the world energy markets to build resources and output almost from scratch.

The Iraqi government's sale of oil and gas development rights is one of the opportunities Petromal seeks to exploit to gain access to supplies and build technical expertise, chief executive officer Radhwan Al Sa'adi said in an interview.

Petromal, started in 2006, was largely inactive until last year when it formed a venture with Premier Oil Plc, the UK explorer.

Oil that has fallen more than two-thirds from its July record has thwarted plans to boost world crude output by making high- price developments like deep-sea exploration or mining tar sands unaffordable. That could hurt indebted companies and create opportunities for wealthier operators to acquire assets, Al Sa'adi said at his Abu Dhabi office recently.

"A lot of what matters in the oil industry is being prepared - being prepared to take new opportunities or to take over an old one," said Al Saadi, an Iraqi national who spent about three decades working in the country's oil ministry.

Petromal plans to bid for Iraqi assets with partner Premier Oil, Al Sa'adi said. The joint venture is also seeking fields in North Africa, the United Arab Emirates and broader Middle East, and in former Soviet republics on the Caspian Sea.

Abu Dhabi-based National Holding and its investment arm Emirates International Investment Co, which runs real estate and industrial businesses as part of its $10 billion portfolio of assets, own Petromal.

Petromal is targeting production of about 30,000 barrels in the next three to five years and aims to build up assets worth $1 billion, Constantin Salameh, chief operating officer at Emirates International Investment Co, said in an interview in Abu Dhabi.

"We're currently looking at half-a-dozen deals" and "certainly hope" to close a transaction for new assets in the first half, Al Sa'adi said. Crude won't return to $100 a barrel this year and may reach a high around $70 by the end of 2009 or early 2010, he said.

Petromal plans investments "in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars" and would seek partners for more expensive deals, he said.