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LONDON (AFP) - Britain's army chiefs are reviewing plans to send Prince Harry to Iraq amid fears he could be targeted, officials said Thursday, but friends downplayed warnings he may quit if prevented from going.
The Ministry of Defence said the 22-year-old's imminent deployment was under "constant consideration," after a newspaper report said army bosses were reviewing the decision amid a spike in British deaths in Iraq.
The Sun newspaper said the second lieutenant could be stopped from being sent to southern Iraq because insurgents might try to kidnap or kill him, putting fellow troops in extra danger.
Such a decision would likely infuriate the prince, third-in-line to the British throne, who has said there would be "no way" he would train to become an officer then sit around while his soldiers fought.
Harry is known as Cornet Wales in the Blues and Royals regiment of the Household Cavalry, in which he is responsible for 11 soldiers and four Scimitar reconnaissance vehicles.
A Household Cavalry source warned that Harry would resign if he could not serve on the front line.
The source told Britain's domestic Press Association: "This is what he signed up for and if he doesn't go, he will sign off and leave. He joined the army for a bit of excitement and for him to be told he's not going would be awful.
"There will be bad feeling in the regiment if they stop him," he added.
a But the prince's friends told the BBC that though Harry would be "very disappointed" if he was switched to a desk job, he would not quit the army.
Royal aides said: "Harry's a grown-up and he'll take whatever the decision is, but he wants to go.
"He would be extremely disappointed but to say he would quit is way too strong."
The MoD confirmed in February that Harry would be deployed to Iraq. His six-month tour was expected to start in May.
April has been one of the deadliest months for British forces in Iraq since the US-led invasion of March 2003. To date 11 lives have been lost, including a corporal doing Harry's armoured reconnaissance troop leader job.
The Sun said the army was reconsidering his deployment. "It's very complicated," a source told the tabloid. "No one wants to gift a PR victory to the insurgents by withdrawing him.
"But there is a groundswell of opinion across senior ranks now that to allow Harry to serve in the open with his men will lead to an inevitable disaster."
Citing militant sources, The Observer newspaper said Sunday that Iraqi militia groups had drawn up detailed plans to seize Harry as a hostage.
An MoD spokesman told the weekly: "The bad guys know that he's coming and we expect that they will consider him a high-profile scalp."
In an interview to mark his 21st birthday in September 2005, Harry said: "There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst (the elite military academy) and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country."
Harry would become the first British royal to see active service since his uncle Prince Andrew flew helicopters in the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina.
Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to be drawn, saying it was "a matter for the army."
Major General Julian Thompson said he would resign if he was in Harry's position and was held back from fighting.
"He is in an armoured vehicle and would be extremely difficult to spot, and difficult to kidnap," he said.
"If he doesn't go we are saying he is not a proper soldier.
"If it were me I would resign my position on the grounds that they are not letting me do the job I am being paid to do."