- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

WhetherPrince Harry, third in line to the British throne, should go to Iraq has divided the nation, just as the war has done.

In February, the Ministry of Defense confirmed that Cornet (2nd lieutenant) Wales would be sent to Iraq with his Blue and Royals regiment, part of the Household Cavalry. He would be in charge of 11 soldiers, carrying out a reconnaissance and intelligence role in Scimitar armored vehicles. Harry would be taking on “a normal troop commander’s role” not driving a desk in Basra, the ministry said.

But April turned out to be one of the bloodiest months for the British army in Iraq: 11 soldiers were killed, including two while on patrol in a Scimitar. And, for the first time, Iraq insurgents seriously damaged the heavily armored Challenger tank, taking off the legs of the driver.

The royal family started to review Harry’s deployment, as did the Ministry of Defense. Despite the profound political repercussions if Harry is captured or killed, Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted that it was solely a military decision. He added that he would be “delighted” if one of his children wanted to serve in Iraq; an easy comment since none of his own children serve in the armed forces.

The final decision rests with Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army. He recently caused a constitutional crisis by voicing his disquiet about the continuing deployment in Iraq.

Recent defense ministers have waded into the debate. Sir John Nott, Conservative defense secretary during the 1982 Falklands War, said: “The danger is that Prince Harry will be hazarding the lives of other soldiers and young officers.” Another former Conservative defense secretary, Michael Portillo, has warned that the insurgents have said they would target the prince and that his capture or killing would be a “political disaster” for Britain.

The playboy prince could be transformed from a babe to a bomb magnet, according to those who oppose his deployment.

The prince himself has made it clear that he wants to be with his men. He regards himself as a career soldier. Much has been invested in his training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, Britain’s West Point. And he has undergone special pre-deployment training for Iraq, where he is due in a few weeks’ time. If he is not sent, colleagues in his regiment have warned that he will quit the army, though sources in the royal household have denied this.

It is true that the lives of his colleagues in Iraq will be more at risk. Few doubt the seriousness of the insurgent threats to target the prince. In addition, Harry may have to be given close protection by special forces, probably the Special Air Service (ASA). The ASA, is however, already overstretched; a 12-man squad, the minimum required, don’t like baby-sitting. And their presence is logistically difficult (and obvious) in the standard four-vehicle Scimitar patrols, with three soldiers crewing each vehicle.

If the 22-year-old prince doesn’t go, however, it will be perceived as caving in to the enemy. Moreover, a blue-blooded royal would be getting special treatment. This would be an insult to the reputation of the army, as well as one in the eye for families of those serving in Iraq, and especially those who have lost loved ones. Unofficial army Web sites have made it clear that the royal family should face the same pressures as other service families.

The royal family has always made a point of sharing its subjects’ suffering in war. Most notably, the royal family stayed in London during the Blitz in World War II. The Duke of Edinburgh served with distinction in the navy in that war. Harry’s brother, Prince William, graduated from Sandhurst in December. Harry’s father, the prince of Wales and the future king, had military training, though no combat experience. The last royal to actually fight was Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. He was a decorated helicopter pilot in the Falklands conflict. But that war was widely supported in Britain while the Iraq war is hugely unpopular there. As the United States surges in with more troops, the British are rapidly drawing down their commitment.

Harry’s presence in Iraq will be a boost to the morale of troops already there; his absence will be seen as another defeat. It might also undermine the credibility of the monarchy. The queen is still a highly respected figure in British life, though her son, Charles, is generally portrayed as a spoiled eccentric. Many royalists would prefer the succession to jump a generation: to make Prince William the next king. He carries the charisma of his dead mother, Diana, princess of Wales.

Further delays in the official British inquiry into her death, a decade ago, have also added fuel to those conspiracy-mongers who see the inquiry as another attempt to cover up the alleged establishment murder of the “people’s princess.” More pressing are the May 3 elections in Wales and Scotland, where separatist parties, especially the Scottish nationalists, are likely to increase their votes dramatically. Both Celtic national parties have a long tradition of republicanism.

Harry wants to risk his life. The monarchy and the army may well risk even more if the determined young prince doesn’t do his duty in Iraq.

Paul Moorcraft, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis, served as a senior instructor at the Royal Military Academy and with members of the royal family while in the Defense Ministry.

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