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Prince's Iraq deployment under review

Published: 12:25PM Friday April 27, 2007 Source: Reuters

Britain's military has denied newspaper reports that it was banning Prince Harry from serving in combat in Iraq, but acknowledged his deployment was under review.

A decision to cancel his mission would be an embarrassing reversal that could hand a propaganda victory to insurgents, undermine US and British assertions that southern Iraq is becoming safe and anger the prince himself.

Harry, third in line to the throne, is due to head to Iraq with his "A" Squadron of the Blues and Royals regiment in the coming weeks as part of the latest British troop rotation. He would patrol the desert in a Scimitar light reconnaissance tank.

"Prince Harry's deployment to Iraq, as we have always said, is under constant consideration," a defence ministry spokeswoman said. "It is still our intention that Prince Harry will deploy as a troop leader."

Cornet Wales, as he is officially known, has long said he enrolled at Britain's Sandhurst military officers academy with the intention of serving on the front line.

But April has already been the deadliest for British troops in Iraq since the first month of the war and there are fears Harry's presence could put troops alongside him in more danger.

Among the 11 British soldiers killed in Iraq this month were two in a Scimitar blown up by a roadside bomb in Maysan province, the first successful insurgent attack on the kind of tank that would carry Harry.

Insurgents in southern Iraq have been using deadlier bombs to attack British armoured vehicles in recent weeks. A close friend of Harry's brother Prince William was among those killed this month when a Warrior troop carrier was destroyed. 

"Inevitable disaster"

Britain's best-selling daily, the Sun tabloid, reported on Thursday that army chiefs had ordered an 11th-hour review into Harry's planned deployment.

The move would likely end up with Harry being banned from going near the frontline, the Sun cited unnamed senior sources as saying. The younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana could still deploy to Iraq for six months but may be desk-bound, it reported.

"No one wants to gift a PR victory to the insurgents by withdrawing him," one anonymous source told the tabloid.

"But there is a groundswell of opinion across senior ranks now that to allow Harry to serve in the open with his men will lead to an inevitable disaster."

The 22-year-old prince has reportedly threatened to quit the army if not allowed to serve on the frontline.

But the palace played such reports down. A palace source said it would be unlikely the young prince would quit.

The British royal family prides itself in its military traditions. Harry's uncle, Prince Andrew, was second in line for the throne when he served in the Falklands conflict, flying helicopters for the Royal Navy.

Key facts on Britain's Prince Harry

Harry was born Henry Charles Albert David Windsor on September 15, 1984. The prince is the younger son of heir to the throne Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana and became third in line to the throne.

At school he was an average pupil getting a 'B' in Art and a 'D' in Geography in his school-leaving A-level exams despite being educated at one of Britain's most prestigious schools, Eton, and receiving hours of private tuition.

 He is a good sportsman and distinguished himself in Eton's cadet corps, a traditional springboard to the army.

 The prince has been dubbed a royal "wild child" for his night club partying lifestyle.

 He has also shown a compassionate side - as when working in the southern African kingdom of Lesotho with young AIDS victims. He launched his own charity in April 2006 in memory of his late mother Princess Diana to help AIDS orphans.

The prince sparked outrage in early 2005 when he wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party two weeks before Queen Elizabeth led Holocaust memorial ceremonies. He later said it had been a "very stupid thing" to do.

Prince Harry arrived at the prestigious Sandhurst military academy in May 2005 to begin his army career with a warning from his superiors that he would be treated like any other cadet.

Harry graduated as an army officer in April 2006 at Sandhurst before joining the Household Cavalry, where he has been trained to lead a group in light reconnaissance tanks. In the army he is know as Cornet Wales.

If Harry sees combat in Iraq, the prince would become the first member of the royal family to see action since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew helicopters in the Falklands War in 1982.