Newspapers in the United States have revealed that John McCain's 19-year-old son, Jimmy, has been serving in Iraq, prompting a furious response from the Republican presidential contender's aides after months of effort to keep his son out of the public spotlight.
Mr McCain has repeatedly refused to make political capital from his son's service, despite having put support for the war in Iraq and national security at the heart of his campaign for president. But a tacit pact with the US media has begun to break down, and details are emerging of L/Cpl Jimmy McCain's military service, his childhood interest in war memorabilia and his experiences patrolling Anbar province in Iraq.
L/Cpl McCain has attended few of his father's campaign events and has been introduced at fewer, although he has accompanied him on at least one private visit to meet the family of a serviceman killed in the war.
When Senator McCain visited Iraq last year and shared a Thanksgiving dinner with troops, there was no press coverage of the fact that he was dining with his son and his unit. And he has kept to his code of silence even when pressed by the media. Asked about his son on Fox News recently, he replied: "We really never talk about our sons. We have two sons in the military but we never talk about it, if that's all right. I am so proud of both of them."
Jimmy McCain enlisted in the US Marines two years ago, at an age so young his mother had to fill consent forms for his medical examinations, and spent his Iraq tour in what was by then a largely subdued area, making house-to-house patrols and handing out footballs as gifts to residents.
In common with the British Royal Family, which gathered the press together to agree a news blackout when Prince Harry served in Afghanistan earlier this year, the McCain camp has argued that coverage could make his son a target.
However, with Jimmy McCain's tour over in February, the Washington gossip sheet The Hill last week and The New York Times over the weekend printed their own investigations. The newspaper, though, agreed not to publish recent photos. A spokesman for the senator said: "The McCain campaign objects strongly to this intrusion into the privacy of Senator McCain's son. The children of presidential candidates in this election cycle should be afforded the same respect for their privacy that the children of President Bush and President and Senator Clinton have been afforded."
Jack McCain, who is two years older than Jimmy, is set to graduate from naval college next year, making it possible that John McCain could become the first sitting president since Eisenhower to have a son serving in a war zone. That may present unprecedented security concerns after any inauguration, but before that it will play heavily in the presidential campaign where the war in Iraq will be a fissure between Mr McCain and his rival, whether it be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, both of whom have demanded an immediate withdrawal of troops. The issue will be pushed to fore again this week when General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, reports to Congress on the "troop surge", saying the military needs more time to assess security before committing to troop reductions.
Democrats have criticised Mr McCain for saying the US should stay in Iraq for 100 years if necessary.
*Grieving Christians packed a Baghdad church yesterday for the funeral of a priest, Adel Yousef, shot dead by gunmen in the latest attack on a community that has become a target in Iraq's sectarian violence.
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