Because the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq war has been so incoherent, it is unclear if the raid carried out by US forces on the Iranian consulate in the Kurdish region of Iraq last Thursday was part of a conscious policy or merely a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. The timing of the raid in the Kurdish city of Erbil seems to reinforce what Bush said a day before about curbing Iranian meddling in Iraq.

The capture of five Iranians and the seizure of computers and documents in the Iranian consulate echo a late December incident in which US forces took into custody four Iranian officials who had entered Iraq at the invitation of the Kurdish president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani.

Shi’ite leaders in Iraq’s government, as well as Talabani, enjoy good ties with Tehran, which is why they have objected to both US raids. And most of Iran’s assistance to its partners in Iraq is for use not against US troops but against Sunni Arab insurgents — the same forces that are trying to drive out the Americans, prosecute a sectarian civil war and recapture their traditional hold on power.

The Iranian meddlers in Iraq are fishing in troubled waters. But America’s Kurdish and Shi’ite allies in Iraq are entitled to ask for more coherence in the Bush policy.