LONDON – Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, is getting his wish to serve in Iraq.
The Ministry of Defense ended speculation that had been swirling for about a week by announcing Thursday the 22-year-old prince will be sent to Iraq with his Blues and Royals regiment in May or June.
Harry, a second lieutenant, will assume a troop commander's role.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that British troop deployments will be cut by 1,600 in the coming months and that all bases except for Basra Palace and Basra Air Base will be handed over to Iraqi forces.
The narrowing of the British presence to the two locations in southern Iraq will mean any insurgent groups looking to target Troop Commander Wales — as he is known to his colleagues — will not have to look far to find him. That has led to some concern that his presence could bring an extra risk to his fellow soldiers.
He will lead a team of 12 men in four armored reconnaissance vehicles, and could become the first royal to see combat since his uncle Prince Andrew served in the Falklands war against Argentina in 1982.
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 some of London's liveliest nightspots.
He has also acknowledged drinking before being of legal age and smoking marijuana. In January 2006, he issued an apology after being pictured in a newspaper at a costume party dressed as a Nazi, including a swastika armband.
But he has been serious about is joining "my boys" in Iraq. After graduating from Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he insisted on getting the opportunity to serve his country.
"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."
The ministry has previously said that Harry could be kept out of situations where his presence could jeopardize his comrades.
Military experts were divided over whether Harry's presence would make the situation more dangerous for his comrades.
"I don't think your average fellow officer will care that much," said Amyas Godfrey, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank. "There needs to be more consideration with him because of the media interest, but it won't be a burden."
But Michael Clarke, a professor of war studies at King's College University in London, said it was likely insurgent groups would be attracted to Harry's unit.
"In a sense, his celebrity might be a factor in making the security situation for his troop more dangerous," he said, though he added that banning Harry from going to Iraq would have done more harm than good.
"He would be appalled if his troop went to do something without his command and they would be too," Clarke said. "If he didn't go, it would be very bad for the morale of the troop. It's like a family."
In joining the military, Harry followed a royal tradition. His father, Prince Charles, was a pilot with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and a ship commander, and Harry's grandfather, Prince Philip, had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy during World War II.
Prince Andrew was a Royal Navy pilot.Click here for more international news.