Sat, Feb 24, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Prince Harry's Iraq service confirmed


He's the redheaded son of the late Princess Diana, the rowdy royal known more for dancing until dawn than waking for battle. But Britain's party prince, Harry, is getting his wish and is being deployed to Iraq with his Blues and Royals regiment.

Royal officials announced on Thursday that the 22-year-old prince would fight for his country, confirming the feverish tabloid speculation about the future of the best-recognized tank commander in Britain. His regiment is expected to complete a six-month tour.

Harry, a second lieutenant, has been trained to lead a team of 12 men in four armored reconnaissance vehicles, and could become the first royal to see combat since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew in the Falklands war against Argentina in 1982.

Word of the deployment follows only one day after British Prime Minister Tony Blair said troop numbers in Iraq would be cut by 1,600 in the coming months. The Sun, a daily tabloid newspaper, opined: "1,600 out ... One in."

Britain will hand over much of its security responsibilities to Iraqi security forces, concentrating its troops at Basra Palace and Basra Air Base. Iraqi insurgent groups looking to target Cornet Wales -- as his rank is called in the Blues and Royals -- will not have to look far to find him. That alone has led to some concern.

"In a sense, his celebrity might be a factor in making the security situation for his troop more dangerous," said Michael Clarke, a professor of war studies at London's King's College.

Britain's Ministry of Defense has previously said that Harry could be kept out of situations where his presence could jeopardize his comrades. And there has been speculation that he will be shadowed by a team of bodyguards.

But a source close to Harry, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told the press that Harry would not be given any special protection.

Colonel Bob Stewart, a former British commander, said he was certain Harry would be safe.

"The Blues and Royals will take great pride in making sure no one gets near him," he said. "I can't think of better security than having a regiment of British soldiers around you."

In Britain, Harry's upcoming deployment was taken in stride. Blair described Harry's decision as in keeping with his character.

"He's a very brave young man, and he's a very determined young man who wants to be part of his regiment and part of the army," Blair said during a British Broadcasting Corp interview. "I think that shows a very special character on his part."

Others thought fighting in Iraq was an appropriate task for the prince.

"It's a bit dangerous for him ... but it's good," said Lee Wills, a 20-year-old from London. "The royal family's got to do its bit for their country."

But in Baghdad Iraqis described the deployment as a public relations stunt.

"These things [are] just to beautify the picture ... the British government wants also to boost the [morale] of their troops,'' said Sabah Ali, a 35-year old employee at the Iraqi Oil Ministry in Baghdad.

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