LONDON (Reuters) - Prince Harry, the third in line to the British throne, will not be sent to serve in Iraq after military commanders decided it was too dangerous.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said specific threats made by insurgent groups against Harry, including listing him as a kidnap target, had made any deployment far too risky.
“I’ve decided the risk to Prince Harry is too great,” Richard Dannatt, the head of the British army, told reporters.
“I’ve also decided that the risk he brings to his troop and his squadron ... is also too great.”
The decision underlines just how dangerous Iraq has become in the four years since U.S. and British troops invaded to overthrow Saddam Hussein. More than 3,400 U.S. troops and 148 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq since March 2003.
The decision over Harry sparked furious debate on radio and television, with many callers saying it was shameful for Harry’s life to be protected above and beyond other soldiers’.
Harry, 22, who graduated as a junior army officer a year ago, had been due to be deployed in Basra, in southern Iraq, with his Blues and Royals regiment in the coming weeks as part of the latest British troop rotation.
Harry has repeatedly said he wants to be deployed with his men, but Ministry of Defence officials were fearful that he could become a target for Iraqi insurgents, endangering himself and those serving under him.
Dannatt said he knew that Harry, as a dedicated professional soldier, would be greatly disappointed by the news, but said the risks outweighed those considerations.
“There have been a number of specific threats, some reported some not reported, which relate directly to Prince Harry as an individual,” Dannatt said.
“These threats expose not only him but also those around him to a degree of risk that I now deem unacceptable.”
In a statement released on behalf of Prince Harry, the prince said he was “very disappointed” but would not quit the army as a result. He said he fully understood the decision.
Cornet Wales, as Harry is referred to in the army, has long said he enrolled at Sandhurst military academy where officers are trained because he wanted to serve on the front line.
As a junior commander in the Blues and Royals “A” Squadron Harry would have patrolled Basra and the deserts north and west of the city in a Scimitar light reconnaissance tank.
Scimitar squadrons operating in and around Basra have repeatedly come under attack in recent weeks -- among the dozen British soldiers killed in Iraq in April, two were blown up when a Scimitar vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
April was the deadliest month for British troops in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Many in Basra fear the city could descend into all-out civil war between rival Shi‘ite groups as British troops begin to withdraw from the oil-exporting region.
Dannatt said the widespread knowledge about Harry’s impending deployment had contributed to his decision.
“It is a fact that this close scrutiny has exacerbated the situation and this is something that I wish to avoid in the future,” he said.
The British royal family has a long tradition of deployment in the armed forces. Harry’s uncle Prince Andrew saw frontline duty as a helicopter pilot in the 1982 Falklands War and his brother William has also been commissioned as an army officer.