NASIRIYAH, Iraq - Recently an Iraqi Police graduation ceremony transformed into an occasion more reminiscent of a childhood birthday party complete with cake, toys and a piAfA+-ata.

More than 30 children attended an IP criminal investigation course graduation ceremony as the guests of honor at the Mittica Training Center in Nasiriyah July 8.

"We want to get the communities involved and the families involved because that helps you with investigations, and that helps you with being a better police officer," said Steve Burton, a mentor, trainer and advisor with the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team. "A lot of these children are not the Iraqi police officers' children. They are children from their neighborhoods."

The impromptu party, organized by the Dhi Qar Provincial Reconstruction Team, CPATT, and the U.S. Army, began almost immediately after the graduation ceremony.

The children quickly overlooked the lunch buffet intended to honor the new graduates and made straight for the dessert. The cake, bearing the U.S. Army seal, generated an excitement that could only be properly expressed through their frosting-covered smiles.

"I am very happy to be here. Everything was so nice," said Al Hassan, a 13-year-old who was there with his uncle, an interpreter for the police. After filling up on cake and other treats, the children received a variety of toys like soccer balls, which inspired a lively debate concerning the future winner of the World Cup.

The children also took turns swinging at a piAfA+-ata until the final whack scattered candy across the floor, sending children scrambling for it.

As he watched the children, Burton said interactions such as these may seem simple. They play an important role in maintaining good relationships between the IP, the PRT, the CPATT, and U.S. forces, especially with the future leaders.

"Look at the way the children act around American Soldiers. You can tell that they are not afraid of them," he said. "This means that when these children are at home, their parents are talking [positively] about us. This will greatly enhance the future, because when these children grow up, they will remember this, and they will be the adults that we will deal with in the future. This is the next generation."