LONDON – Some said it was a sensible judgment and should have been made long ago.
Others said the decision not to deploy Prince Harry to Iraq with his army unit was ridiculous, and that backtracking handed a victory to insurgents.
The decision was debated on talk radio and the Internet on Thursday — just like the original announcement that the 22-year-old tank commander would serve with his Blues and Royals regiment in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
"I think the general public — and to a greater extent the military — are quite annoyed at how things have been handled," said Amyas Godfrey, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.
Some military families expressed unhappiness at what they saw as special treatment.
"It is not safe for any of them out there," Gella Tomlin, the wife of a British soldier, told the British Broadcasting Corp. "Who do I need to speak to in order to stop my husband being sent there later in the year?"
Reg Keys — whose son Thomas was killed while serving in Basra in 2003 — said the decision was distasteful.
"It would appear that Harry's life is more valuable than my son or the other nearly 150 service personnel who've given their lives," Keys told the BBC.
Defense Secretary Des Browne said he understood the families' concerns, but argued that sending Harry to Iraq would have "increased the risk to others disproportionately."
Despite the decision, he said he hoped the British royal tradition of military service would continue. "I don't accept for a moment that the long tradition of the royal family serving in the military is in any sense an anachronism," Browne said.
Serving soldiers said they understood the decision of Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, the army chief of staff, who announced Wednesday that Harry would not go to Iraq because of "specific threats" to his life that would expose the prince and his fellow soldiers to unacceptable risk.
The Daily Telegraph said the military should never have considered sending Harry — a grandson of Queen Elizabeth II who is third in line to the throne — to a war zone, and the about-face was a victory for insurgents.
"The deployment of the prince should have been ruled out from the very start, regardless of his personal wishes," the newspaper said in an editorial. "In reaching that decision after such lengthy vacillation, the government has handed a priceless propaganda coup to Iraqi insurgents, who can now, with some justice, claim that they have forced Britain into a humiliating U-turn."
One army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said many in the military took the announcement that Harry would not go to Iraq with "a pinch of salt."
"Many of us think he's probably going to arrive anyway, outside of the media attention," said the officer, who has served two tours in Iraq. "Soldiers understand he's keen to do it after all the training. He probably should be allowed to go as a soldier, but we also understand it's a security risk and the general has probably made a sensible decision."
And Lucille Duggs, whose son is serving in Iraq and is due to return home next month, told the BBC that she understood Dannatt's decision.
"If someone was out to kill someone like Harry you would not want innocent bystanders, like other soldiers, to be targeted," she said. "Too many have lost their lives already."