The monitor recording the descent of a drill beneath the green hills of Khor Mor, in Iraqi Kurdistan, flashes 3,044—or just over 3km. In a caravan next to a roaring derrick a Canadian oilman and his team from Crescent Petroleum, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, watch for the first signs of gas. Other wells in the area are already meeting 80% of the electricity needs of Kurdistan. Capacity at an adjoining processing plant is set to double. The Kurds could begin supplying the rest of Iraq with gas by next year, says Falah Mustafa, the foreign minister for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Exports of gas to Europe via Turkey could follow in 2022.
Such confidence signals an about-turn for Iraq’s Kurds, who enjoy relative autonomy from the rest of Iraq. In 2017 the enclave’s leaders reached for more, recklessly holding a referendum on independence, which passed overwhelmingly. The central government in Baghdad responded by booting Kurdish militias, known as the Peshmerga, out of oil-rich Kirkuk. It ended budgetary support for the regional government and, with the help of Turkey and Iran, closed its airspace and some border crossings. Western leaders abandoned the Kurds; foreigners fled the region. Masoud Barzani, Kurdistan’s humiliated president, resigned and left a power vacuum. Independence did not happen.