Leading article: Prince Harry and the 5,500

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The Independent Online

The Independent on Sunday commends the spirit of Prince Harry, just as we admire that of any soldier who wants to serve in Iraq. By the same token, we believe that he should serve on the same basis as any other soldier. We understand the argument that he might be a target for the insurgents and might, therefore, put his comrades in additional danger. Equally, it is probably true that Basra is more dangerous than it was when it was first mooted that the Prince might do a tour there. But all our troops in Iraq are in danger and it becomes unproductive to make hypothetical calculations when there are more immediate risks to weigh.

Difficult and interesting as the debate may be, it is in any case the wrong debate in which to be engaged. British newspapers and politicians should be talking about how to get out of a war that should never have been fought in the first place. This is just as difficult as the Great Harry Question, and also has a tendency to be personalised - by the emphasis on the character of the Prime Minister. But that particular focus is backward-looking, and much of the energy has gone out of the debate because it has gone on so long. It has been hard to argue at any point that British troops should be withdrawn more quickly than they were being. But one of the reasons why the Harry debate has become so heated is because the situation in Basra has deteriorated quickly in recent weeks. Private Paul Barton told his local newspaper last week that his recent posting in southern Iraq was like a siege: "Basra is lost. They are in control now. We have overstayed our welcome."

The dilemma remains acute as to whether a faster "drawdown" of British troops, to use the current euphemism, would make matters worse or better - or make no difference at all. But that question ought to be the focal point of media, political and military attention.

The discussion should not be about whether one soldier goes to Iraq, but when 5,500 soldiers come home.