D. Spencer Hines
2007-02-23 07:32:19 UTC
Harry is ordered to the front line
Prince Harry was "over the moon" last night after being told he will be
going to Iraq within weeks.
The 22-year-old Army officer will command an armoured patrol on a six-month
tour of duty after winning his battle to serve alongside his fellow
Harry, who had threatened to quit if he was not allowed to join his men on
the front line, will become the first member of the Royal Family to serve in
a war zone since Prince Andrew in the Falklands war 25 years ago.
The final decision to put the third in line to the throne in harm's way came
after months of agonised debate between the Ministry of Defence and the
royal household. Palace sources said the Queen had given her "whole-hearted
support" to her grandson's deployment.
But while Harry's courage was lauded yesterday, there were concerns that
insurgents will flock to southern Iraq in the hope of capturing him as a
Islamic extremists warned his presence could provoke a backlash from British
Muslims against the Royal Family.
Ralph Wykes-Sneyd, Prince Andrew's commanding officer in the Falklands War,
said the Argentine military junta had plotted to capture Andrew "and parade
him through the streets of Buenos Aires" in 1982.
He feared Harry would be in even greater danger. "He is a man of some
celebrity. You offer up some trophy factor," he said.
Referring to Prince Andrew's service as a Navy helicopter pilot, he added:
"There is a difference between sea operations and land operations. At sea
you fight a war at much more distance from the enemy. You're much less
likely to end up in the enemy's hands. That is not the case on land."
The Ministry of Defence also had to take into account the possibility that
Harry's presence in Iraq would increase the risk to his fellow soldiers, who
have wryly nicknamed him "bullet magnet".
Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, gave the final
go-ahead to send Harry into action after consultations with the royal
household and senior Government ministers.
The MoD confirmed that Harry's unit, "A" Squadron of the Blues and Royals,
is among those going to Iraq from April, and that he will carry out a
"normal troop commander's role".
In a statement jointly issued with Clarence House, the MoD said the decision
to send Harry had been "a military one".
Senior royal sources told the Mail that while the Queen was concerned for
his safety, her belief in the importance of duty meant that "if the Army say
they want him there, Harry has her wholehearted support".
Asked what he thought about Prince Harry going to Iraq, Tony Blair told the
BBC: "I think it is very typical of him. He is a very brave young man who
wants to be part of his regiment and part of the Army. It shows a very
special character on his part."
Cornet Wales, as he is known in the Army, will lead a troop of 12 men from
the Blues and Royals in four Scimitar light tanks, carrying out long-range
Primarily responsible for surveillance and intelligence-gathering, the
Prince's men are likely to operate well away from towns, using their
mobility to keep watch on enemy movements across wide swathes of southern
Iraq's remote deserts.
The nature of his work in Iraq will minimise the danger of him being
identified by insurgents.
The MoD and Clarence house issued an unprecedented appeal for a news
blackout once Harry arrives in Iraq - and for an end to any discussions
about his unit's likely location.
His tour of duty is expected to test the strength of his relationship with
girlfriend Chelsy Davy.
However the couple are likely to be reunited when Harry returns to Britain
on leave in July. He will also be back in August for the pop concert and
memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of his mother's death.
It will also mean an abrupt end to the hectic socialising for which he has
been criticised in recent months.
Major Charles Heyman, editor of the British Army Guide, said: "Young
soldiers think it's brilliant that a member of the Royal Family will share
their hardships and dangers. It has a really good knock-on effect on morale
right across the armed forces.
"This is a young prince - a man in a privileged position - saying "I'm going
to do my duty, the same as ordinary soldiers do".
"It shows the Royal Family has a real stake in the armed forces, not just
Harry had threatened to quit the Army if he was not allowed to serve in
battle, saying last year: "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."
One friend said: "He is desperate to be treated as one of the lads. He would
have felt totally humiliated if he had not been sent with the rest of his
Another source within his regiment said: "I would say Harry is over the
moon. He joined the regiment to do what the regiment does."
But while the news was well received among his fellow soldiers, there were
warnings of wider implications for the Royal Family.
Omar Bakri Mohammed, the former British-based firebrand Islamic preacher
living in exile in Beirut, said radical Muslims in Britain would regard
Harry's deployment as "a provocation".
"I don't know why Prince Harry isn't sensitive enough to realise that this
will hurt the feelings of a lot of Muslims in Iraq and Great Britain," he
"In Britain it will be seen as provocation because he represents the Queen,
the monarchy and the Church of England and that link could provoke Muslim
Bakri's British representative Anjem Choudary warned that the announcement
"did not bode well" for the Royal Family, although he stopped short of
predicting terrorist plots against them.
"The Queen talks about shared values between all religions, but her grandson
is going to be occupying a Muslim country. It doesn't bode well for the
Royal Family," he said.
The extremist website Ahl us-Sunnah wal- Jamaa'ah Muntadaa yesterday carried
a report on Harry's deployment headlined: "Prince Harry will be sent to Iraq
to kill Muslims."