LONDON – The head of the British army said Monday that he had personally decided that Prince Harry, the third in line to the throne, will serve with a combat unit in Iraq.
Commanders reportedly had reconsidered their decision to allow the prince to fight in Iraq for fear he would become a target of insurgents and his presence could endanger other soldiers. Harry’s regiment, the Blues and Royals, is due to begin a six-month tour of duty in Iraq within weeks.
Over the past two weeks, newspapers have reported threats by Iraqi insurgents to kill or kidnap the prince, including claims his photograph had been widely circulated among militants. Military chiefs acknowledge that Harry would be an attractive target and that his presence could lead to a surge in attacks on British forces.
Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt said the decision would be kept under review, but he hoped his statement would end media speculation on Harry’s deployment.
“The decision has been taken by myself that he will deploy in due course,” Dannatt said. “I would urge that the somewhat frenzied media activity surrounding this particular story should cease in the interests of the overall security of all our people deployed in Iraq.”
He spoke after newspaper reports cited unidentified senior military officials as saying an army review was likely to lead to Harry being banned from the battlefield, although he could still do a desk job.
Clarence House, Prince Charles’ London office, would not comment on Dannatt’s statement.
Harry, a 22-year-old second lieutenant, is a tank commander trained to lead a 12-man team in four armored reconnaissance vehicles.
If deployed, he would become the first royal to serve in a war zone since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew as a helicopter pilot in Britain’s conflict with Argentina over the Fakland Islands in 1982.
The younger son of the late Princess Diana, 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 at glitzy London nightclubs.
But he has said he is serious about an army career. After graduating from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst last year, Harry insisted on an opportunity to serve in the armed forces.