PetroChina, China’s top energy company, stated that it’s planning to boost its presence in the Middle East in a move intended to increase foreign production to meet a shortfall from domestic fields.

The company will be having Iraq and Iran as its main targets, with focus on five projects, the Ahdab, Rumaila and Halfaya oilfields in Iraq, and the North Azadegan and Masjed Suleiman fields in Iran.

“Entering the Middle East market had been the ambition of several generations of Chinese oilmen, given the region’s importance in the oil and gas industry,” said Jiang Jiemin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of PetroChina.

Jiang added that the development of Halfaya will start in the second of half of this year. The company now owns a 37.5% stake, with French giant Total and Malaysia’s Petronas each holding a 18.75% stake and the 25% balance held by Iraq ’s South Oil Company. PetroChina already started drilling at Iran’s South Pars gas project to evaluate the reserves for the field’s Phase 11 development, though limited access to key liquefying gas technologies due to US sanctions is proving problematic.

PetroChina’s production hit a record 69.6 million tones of oil and 8.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas last year, which considered an increase from 2008 of 12% and 22%.