Prince Harry to serve in Iraq in May or June like ordinary soldier

Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, got his wish Thursday when Britain's Ministry of Defense announced that he is to be sent to Iraq with his regiment in May or June.

Speculation that Harry would be deployed to Iraq had been swirling over the past week, and it was confirmed by the Ministry of Defense and royal staff that the 22-year-old prince would be sent to Basra with the Blues and Royals regiment.

Harry, a second lieutenant, will assume a troop commander's role.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that British troop deployments will be cut by 1,600 in the coming months and that all bases except for Basra Palace and Basra Air Base will be handed over to Iraqi forces, the AP says.

The narrowing of the British presence to the two locations will mean any Iraqi insurgent groups looking to target Cornet Wales - as his rank is called in the army - will not have to look far to find him. That has led to some concern that his presence could bring an extra risk to his fellow soldiers.

Harry will 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 served in the Falklands war against Argentina in 1982.

The fun-loving Harry has been a frequent face on the front of Britain's tabloid newspapers, which have provided a constant stream of coverage of his party-going lifestyle.

He has been snapped more than once leaving some of London's liveliest nightspots - once scuffling with a photographer. Harry has also acknowledged drinking underage and smoking marijuana in the past, and in January 2006, he issued an apology after being pictured in a national newspaper at a costume party dressed as a Nazi, including a swastika armband.

But one thing he has always been serious about is joining "my boys" in Iraq. After graduating from Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he insisted on getting the opportunity to serve his country.

"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."

Britain's Ministry of Defense has previously said that Harry could be kept out of situations where his presence could jeopardize his comrades.

Military experts were divided over whether Harry's presence would make the situation more dangerous for his comrades.

"I don't think your average fellow officer will care that much," said Amyas Godfrey, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.

"There needs to be more consideration with him because of the media interest, but it won't be a burden."

But Michael Clarke, a professor of war studies at King's College University in London, said it was likely insurgent groups would be attracted to Harry's unit.

"In a sense, his celebrity might be a factor in making the security situation for his troop more dangerous," he said, though he added that banning Harry from going to Iraq would have done more harm than good.

"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."

What exactly Harry's operational duties will be have not been revealed, but he has been trained to lead a group of four Scimitar tanks, used for reconnaissance operations.

In joining the military, Harry followed a royal tradition: his father, Prince Charles, was a pilot with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and a ship commander, and Harry's grandfather, Prince Philip, had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy during World War II.

Prince Andrew was a Royal Navy pilot.

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