London — He's the redheaded son of the late Princess Diana, the rowdy royal known more for dancing until dawn than waking for battle. But Britain's party prince, Harry, is getting his wish and is being deployed to Iraq this spring with his Blues and Royals regiment.
Royal officials announced Thursday that the 22-year-old prince would fight for his country, confirming feverish tabloid speculation about the future of the best-recognized tank commander in Britain. His regiment is expected to set out in May or June for a six-month tour.
Harry, a second lieutenant, has been trained to lead a team of 12 men in four armored reconnaissance vehicles and could become the first British royal to see combat since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew as a Royal Navy pilot in the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982.
Word of the deployment comes one day after Prime Minister Tony Blair said British troop numbers in Iraq will be cut by 1,600 in coming months. The tabloid newspaper, the Sun, opined - "1,600 out : One in."
Britain will hand over much of its security responsibilities to Iraqi forces, concentrating its troops at Basra Palace and Basra Air Base in southern Iraq.
Iraqi insurgents might seek to target Cornet Wales - as Harry is known in the Blues and Royals.
That has led to some concern that his presence could bring an extra risk to fellow soldiers.
"In a sense, his celebrity might be a factor in making the security situation for his troop more dangerous," said Michael Clarke, a professor of war studies at London's King's College.
Britain's Ministry of Defense previously said Harry could be kept out of situations where his presence could jeopardize his comrades.
There has been speculation that he will be shadowed by bodyguards. But a source close to the prince, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Harry would not be given any special protection.
Col. Bob Stewart, a former British commander, said he was certain Harry would be safe.
"The Blues and Royals will take great pride in making sure no one gets near him," he said. "I can't think of better security than having a regiment of British soldiers around you."
In Britain, Harry's upcoming deployment was taken in stride. Blair described Harry's decision as in keeping with his character.
"He's a very brave young man and he's a very determined young man who wants to be part of his regiment and part of the army," Blair told the British Broadcasting Corp. "And I think that shows a very special character on his part."
In joining the military, Harry followed royal tradition. In addition to Prince Andrew's Falklands War service, Harry's father, Prince Charles, was a pilot with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and a ship commander. His grandfather, Prince Philip, had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy during World War II. Even Queen Elizabeth II served before becoming monarch - she was trained as a driver in the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II.
After completing the officer training course at Sandhurst's Royal Military Academy, Harry demanded a chance to serve.
"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."