A British force of Challenger tanks and Warrior armoured fighting vehicles came under rocket-propelled grenade and machinegun fire from alleyways as it approached the station, he said.

Torture

Burbridge said many of the prisoners held by the Serious Crimes Unit had been tortured.

British officers said the prisoners showed
signs of torture [Reuters]
"The prisoners were found with signs of torture, such as crushed hands, cigarette burns, scars from electric shock treatment and many couldn't walk," he told Al Jazeera.
  
Captain Tane Dunlop, another British military spokesman, said the troops carried out medical assessments of detainees at the building and transferred them to another police station.

"We [then] used explosives to put the building beyond use so it can no longer be used by the criminal enterprise," he said. "We had clear directions from the prime minister and governor [Mohammed] Waili to dissolve the unit."

Last week British troops arrested a senior officer in the unit and accused him of ordering the murder of 17 staff at a British-run police academy.

On October 29, unidentified men ambushed a bus carrying the employees back to their homes in Basra.

The police station, one of the biggest in Basra, was where two plain-clothes British soldiers were briefly held in September 2005 before being freed by their comrades.