Despite reservations, Prince Harry is set for Iraq duty

Other News Materials 1 May 2007 10:42 (UTC +04:00)

( LatWp ) - After several days of public nail biting and second thoughts, it's official: Prince Harry will be deployed to Iraq this month.

Britain's senior army commander said that he had decided to go ahead with the first royal assignment to active combat since the Falklands War in 1982 but was prepared to keep the matter open for review.

``The decision has been taken he will deploy,'' Gen. Richard Dannatt, the army chief of staff, told the British Broadcasting Corp. Saying he hoped to end the ``somewhat frenzied media speculation around this issue,'' the general said he had made the decision after the ``widest possible consultation.''

Harry, 22, third in line to the British throne and a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, has expressed his willingness to deploy with his regiment, the Blues and Royals, in southern Iraq.

But the past month has seen an upsurge in attacks on British forces in the south, with 11 killed. Two soldiers from the Queen's Royal Lancers died late in late April on a mission believed to be similar to what the prince likely will undertake -- patrolling the desert in a Scimitar armored reconnaissance vehicle.

Their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Military officials say increasingly sophisticated and powerful weapons are being directed at British forces, including those traveling in armored vehicles.

More worrying for many, several Iraqi militants have made it clear they are looking forward to Harry's presence.

``We are awaiting the arrival of the young, handsome, spoilt prince with baited breath, and we confidently expect he will come out into the open on the battlefield,'' Abu Zaid, commander of the Malik Ibn al-Ashtar Brigade of the Shiite al-Mahdi militia, told the Observer in Iraq.

``We will be generous with him. For he will return to his grandmother (the Queen) but without ears,'' said Zaid, adding that the prince's photograph had been downloaded from the Internet and distributed to militia groups.

A Sunni insurgent leader told the newspaper that his group had people ``planted'' inside British military bases who were under orders to track Harry's movements.

Two former defense ministers came out last week against the royal deployment.

``It's clear that he could be a target, either for murder or kidnapping, and if that occurred it would be a disaster for Britain,'' Michael Portillo, the defense secretary under former Prime Minister John Major, told the BBC.

John Nott, who headed the Defense Ministry during the Falklands conflict, warned that Harry's presence could threaten the safety of the soldiers around him.

``The notion of a government as innately incompetent as ours dealing with the third in line to the throne being taken hostage by a vicious enemy is terrifying even to contemplate,'' the Telegraph newspaper opined.

But London-based defense analyst Tim Ripley said the level of the specific threat against the prince has been exaggerated.

``Once he's got his uniform on, his helmet on and he's in a tank, how do they know it's him?'' he said.

Ripley said a decision not to send him would be a much harder order.

``It would be a devastating blow to the morale of the British Army in Iraq if, as a result of a huge amount of media froth, he didn't go on account of it's too dangerous,'' he said. ``What do you tell the thousands of other troops, along with their families, who have to go?

''Yes, he's a prince, but he's in the army, he's got the uniform, he's got the training, and he joined because he wants to be a proper soldier,`` he added. ''At this stage of the game, it would be a real smack in the face of everybody else. You've got one soldier who really wants to go, and you're not letting him?``

Dannatt said he continually would review the situation.

''If circumstances are such that I change that decision, I will make a further statement,`` he said.