Traditional structural analysis in fold and thrust belts has focused on quantifying horizontal movements. In this paper, the importance of quantifying vertical movements is illustrated using a case study from Kurdistan, northern Iraq. The subsidence history of this area can be determined by analysis of the stratigraphic record from deep exploration wells. A phase of thermal subsidence from Middle Permian to Late Cretaceous (tectonic subsidence 1.8–1.9 km) was followed by flexural subsidence in the Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic (tectonic subsidence >0.6 km) in response to the closure of the Neo-Tethys Ocean. The main phase of continental collision during the Neogene resulted in the development of the Zagros fold and thrust belt; the amount of uplift at individual anticlines can be estimated from their amplitude (up to 3 km), but regional cross-sections indicate that approximately 1 km of additional basement-involved uplift is present NE of the Mountain Front. The timing of basement-involved uplift is interpreted to be coeval with the deposition of a Pliocene– Quaternary growth sequence adjacent to the Mountain Front. The amount of erosion resulting from the uplift can be estimated from vitrinite reflectance and cross-sections; these estimates show a similar pattern, with maximum erosion in the mountains NE of the Mountain Front (>1.5 km) and lesser erosion in the adjacent foreland basin (generally <0.8 km). The results provide a quantitative understanding of subsidence, uplift and erosion, and have been used to define prospective and high-risk areas for petroleum exploration.