Destination: Iraq

updated 03/05/2007 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/05/2007 01:00AM

From the time he entered the elite Sandhurst military academy Prince Harry made it clear he wanted to go where the action was—Iraq. "There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst," he said in 2005, and "then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country."

Now it appears that Charles and Diana's 22-year-old younger son—third in line for the British throne—will get his chance to brave snipers, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers. By summer, according to a source close to the situation, Lieutenant Wales, as he is known, is likely to deploy to Basra, in southern Iraq, with the Blues and Royals regiment of the Household Cavalry. "He is pleased—there is excitement, danger, all those things," says a family friend. "The only thing we must hope is that some ghastly accident doesn't happen."

The horrific possibilities, accidental and otherwise, have caused enormous angst among officials who fear Harry and his unit would be a magnet for insurgents. For that reason, the Prince may have special security arrangements, and his precise duties are being kept vague, though he trained as a tank commander, and his unit, experts say, will probably do reconnaissance. "Unless he drives around with his royal standard in his tank, he's not more likely to be attacked than any other soldier," says Middle East defense expert Tim Ripley. Though British bases around Basra—where Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes to pull out a number of troops in the coming months—come under daily mortar and rocket fire, Ripley adds, it's nothing like Baghdad. "In Iraqi terms, Basra is a bit of a backwater."

That should be some consolation to Prince Charles, who is supportive but concerned, according to the family friend. "He is nervous," the friend says. "But you don't put your children in the army for them to be stuffed dolls." Though No. 1 son William, 24, followed Harry to Sandhurst and the Household Cavalry, he's not Iraq-bound: As second in line for the throne, he's being kept out of harm's way. For Harry, known chiefly for his carousing and boyish antics, it's an opportunity to make his mark as a man. "This is Harry's forte," says Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine. "He's brave as a lion."

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