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A new warrior prince: Harry to be sent to Iraq with his regiment

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Posted: February 22, 2007 5:21 p.m.
Updated: March 9, 2007 5:00 a.m.
LONDON — 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 this spring with his Blues and Royals regiment.
    Royal officials announced Thursday that the 22-year-old prince would fight for his country, confirming feverish tabloid speculation about the future of the best-recognized tank commander in Britain. His regiment is expected to set out in May or June for 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 British royal to see combat since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew as a Royal Navy pilot in the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982.
    Word of the deployment comes one day after Prime Minister Tony Blair said British troop numbers in Iraq will be cut by 1,600 in coming months. The tabloid newspaper, the Sun, opined — ‘‘1,600 out ... One in.’’
    Britain will hand over much of its security responsibilities to Iraqi forces, concentrating its troops at Basra Palace and Basra Air Base in southern Iraq.
    Iraqi insurgents might seek to target Cornet Wales — as Harry is known in the Blues and Royals. That has led to some concern that his presence could bring an extra risk to fellow soldiers.
    ‘‘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 Harry could be kept out of situations where his presence could jeopardize his comrades.
    There has been speculation that he will be shadowed by bodyguards. But a source close to the prince, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told The Associated Press that Harry would not be given any special protection.
    Col. 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 told the British Broadcasting Corp. ‘‘And I think that shows a very special character on his part.’’
    Others thought fighting in Iraq was an appropriate task for the man who is third in line to the throne.
    ‘‘It’s a bit dangerous for him ... but it’s good,’’ said Lee Wills, 20, of London. ‘‘The royal family’s got to do its bit for their country.’’
    But in Baghdad, Iraqis, who have endured much pain since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, 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 worker at the Iraqi Oil Ministry.
    In joining the military, Harry followed royal tradition. In addition to Prince Andrew’s Falklands War service, Harry’s father, Prince Charles, was a pilot with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and a ship commander. His grandfather, Prince Philip, had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy during World War II. Even Queen Elizabeth II served before becoming monarch — she was trained as a driver in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II.
    ‘‘He would be appalled if his troop went to do something without his command and they would be too,’’ Clarke said. ‘‘If he didn’t go, it would be very bad for the morale of the troop. It’s like a family.’’
    The fun-loving Harry has been a frequent face on the London nightclub circuit and on the front pages of British tabloids, which have provided constant coverage of his party-going lifestyle.
    The paparazzi have snapped him leaving some of London’s liveliest nightspots. Harry has also acknowledged drinking underage and smoking marijuana in the past, and in January 2006, he apologized after being pictured in a newspaper at a costume party dressed as a Nazi, complete with a swastika armband.
    But one thing he has always been serious about is going to Iraq. After completing the officer training course at Sandhurst’s Royal Military Academy, he demanded a chance to serve.
    ‘‘There’s no way I’m 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 in an interview to mark his 21st birthday. ‘‘That may sound very patriotic, but it’s true.’’
    Harry’s late mother would have been firmly behind the decision to allow her second son to see active service, said Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of the royal magazine Majesty.
    ‘‘I remember Diana telling me that Harry loved the military and all its pomp,’’ she said. ‘‘She was never worried about him. This was what he was always going to do.’’
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