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Keep this auditor in Iraq

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Even though he is a Republican, Stuart W. Bowen Jr. may have become too much of a thorn in the side of his own party simply by doing his job well.

That's one credible conclusion some politicians are drawing from a hidden provision in a recently passed military reauthorization bill that terminates his job as an auditor of American reconstruction efforts in Iraq, effective Oct. 1, 2007. A New York Times story late last week brought Bowen's termination to light, as well as efforts by some lawmakers to pass a bill that keeps him in place.

Since he started in 2004, Bowen and his team of auditors have uncovered shoddy construction work, financial abuses and poor accounting practices. His probes have targeted well-connected companies such as Halliburton, and some charges have led to criminal bribery and conspiracy convictions.

While it's apparently hard to pinpoint exactly when the idea of terminating his office surfaced, lawmakers in favor of that move argue that his job always was considered temporary, and that the State Department and the Pentagon have auditors capable of making the same investigations Bowen now makes.

But that's hardly a good public relations move, especially at a time when the administration is being criticized for its handling of the war. Not surprisingly, some Democrats already are using Bowen's termination as an example of how the president wants to avoid tough scrutiny of his own agencies — this despite no evidence that the president, or prominent contractors, had any influence on Bowen's termination.

It doesn't help that the Pentagon's inspector general testified more than a year ago that his office had no auditors in Iraq. That situation has since changed. Bowen's position is unique, however, because he operates outside the control of those departments, which allows him to be more aggressive and more independent.

All things become political in an election year. The important thing here is that there is a bipartisan effort to change the situation. Bowen's position should not be a permanent one, but there is no logical reason at the moment why it should end as soon as next year.