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HRH makes a surprise morale-boosting visit to British troops in Iraq

8th February 2004

The Prince of Wales has made a surprise morale-boosting visit to British troops in Iraq.

The Heir to the Throne flew to the southern city of Basra to meet soldiers serving in the war-ravaged country.

The Prince is the first member of the Royal Family to visit Iraq since the recent conflict and there were intense security arrangements for his top-secret trip. In Basra, His Royal Highness met soldiers working to restore peace and stability in Iraq‘s second city in the aftermath of the war.

After arriving in Basra, The Prince boarded a Chinook helicopter and was flown along the Shattal Arab waterway where derelict ships were left abandoned at the edge of the river, and landed in the Al-Sarraji Palace compound.

The palace, built in the 1980s for Saddam Hussein, is now used as the brigade‘s operation headquarters.

Among the servicemen and women were members of the Royal Regiment of Wales, the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and the Army Air Corps - regiments of which The Prince is Colonel-in-Chief.

The Prince was greeted briefly by, among others, Major General Andrew Stewart - General Commanding Officer of the Coalition Military Headquarters in southern Iraq.

Around 9,000 British soldiers are serving in Iraq with 4,500 based in Basra, forming part of the 20th Armoured Brigade.

Colour Sergeant James Wilson, said after meeting The Prince: “He asked about the situation here. It‘s improved a hell of a lot since we arrived, and it‘s improving all the time.

“He‘s our Colonel-in-Chief so it‘s an honour to have him come and find time to speak to the boys.”

The Prince later thanked British troops for their work in Iraq when he met more than 200 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.

His Royal Highness described them as a “remarkable bunch of people” and presented the Wilkinson Sword of Peace to the regiment for its peacekeeping efforts following the conflict in Afghanistan. The Prince said: “I was enormously impressed by what you managed to achieve. I hope you feel there is some sense of reward for the difference you managed to make for so many people who live in Kabul.”

He praised the men for setting up a football match in Afghanistan saying British troops “have a great way of conducting that all-important hearts and minds campaign.”

As he finished his speech, the soldiers, who stood to attention in a semi-circle around him, gave their Colonel-in-Chief three loud cheers, raising their berets in the air with each call.

Whilst at the palace, His Royal Highness also met senior leaders of the Iraqi community, including Judge Wa‘il Abl Al-Latif, provincial governor and member of the Iraqi Governing Council; and Gabriel Qassab, the Catholic Archbishop of Iraq.

Later in the day, The Prince met Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK‘s special representative for Iraq, who said: “This is not a safe theatre for any visitor. This makes it even more of a gesture to the troops, the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) and the whole Islamic world. It adds that little bit of motivation which we can always do with.”