LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Prince Harry, who is third in line to the British throne, is being deployed to Iraq, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) said on Thursday.
Harry could become the first member of the royal family to face combat since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew helicopters in the 1982 Falklands War. Harry’s great-grandfather, King George VI, saw action in World War One.
A ministry spokesman said the prince would be sent to Iraq with his “A” Squadron of the Blues and Royals regiment “over the next few months” as part of the latest British troop rotation.
The announcement comes a day after Britain said it would be withdrawing almost a quarter of its 7,100 troops from Iraq in coming months. But British soldiers would remain in the country into 2008 if Iraq wanted them to provide support and training.
The flame-haired younger son of the late Princess Diana had always stressed that if his unit were to go into battle, he would want to be leading them.
Harry’s regiment will leave for Iraq in May or June and could serve up to seven months there, Defense Secretary Des Browne said in a statement.
The 22-year-old prince, who as a Second Lieutenant has the rank of Cornet in his regiment, had reportedly threatened to quit the army if not allowed to serve on the frontline.
He has trained to become troop commander and will be leading 12 men in four Scimitar armored reconnaissance vehicles.
Urging media restraint on Harry’s posting, the ministry said: “Speculation about precisely where Cornet Wales will serve or the exact details of his role is potentially dangerous.”
Harry’s deployment may be a major security headache for military commanders as the prince could be a target for insurgents and a magnet for suicide bombers.
“He is a tempting target but it will be very hard to identify where Harry will be at one time. It is difficult enough for terrorists to hit any army patrol and southern Iraq is not Baghdad,” said defense analyst Charles Heyman, referring to the Iraqi capital where almost daily bombings take place.
Harry, who once sparked international outrage for wearing a Nazi uniform at a costume party, graduated from the elite Sandhurst military academy last year, saying he wanted to fight for his country as a frontline soldier.
Harry, younger son of heir to the throne Britain’s Prince Charles, has always said he wanted to put his training into practice.
“There is no way I am going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country,” he said on his 21st birthday.
“That may sound very patriotic, but it’s true,” said Harry, dubbed a royal “wild child” for underage drink and drugs antics.
His elder brother Prince William is also in the Blues and Royals but is most unlikely to serve in a war zone because he is second-in-line to the throne.
He won worldwide sympathy as a forlorn 12-year-old walking head bowed behind his mother’s coffin at her funeral in 1997.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.