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Stolen Picasso painting 'worth millions of dollars' seized in Iraq drug raid 

Iraqi policemen in the centre of the capital Baghdad on 22 December 2020 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images]
Iraqi policemen in Baghdad, Iraq on 22 December 2020 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images]

Iraqi authorities claim to have found a stolen painting by famed Spanish artist Pablo Picasso said to be "worth millions of dollars" during a drug raid carried out in the province of Diyala on Saturday.

"A painting belonging to the international painter Picasso was seized in their possession," the Director of the anti-narcotics media office, Colonel Bilal Sobhi, said in a statement to the Iraqi News Agency

Sobhi added that the raid was part of a larger crackdown on narcotics trafficking that began last month. Security forces have arrested 1,300 suspects and seized "44kg of narcotic substances" as well as "37kg of stimulants, including crystal" since the operation began, he said.

The official also noted that "The drug trade is linked to many crimes, including murder, theft, kidnapping, rape, gang formation, corruption and family disintegration," stating that it has even reached the antiquities trade.

READ: Palestinian artist uses prison days to draw paintings

Although further details about the alleged Picasso work have not been released by the Ministry of Interior, it is not the first time Iraqi officials have claimed to have retrieved a Picasso painting.

In 2009, police arrested a man in Hillah, south of Baghdad, who was trying to sell what he claimed was a Picasso piece for $450,000, AFP reported.

That painting, thought to be Picasso's 'The Naked Woman' was reportedly stolen from the National Museum of Kuwait during Saddam Hussein's invasion of the Gulf state in 1990. This was later disputed by officials from the Louvre in Paris while the National Museum debunked the claim, saying that the painting was a fake.

Although the famous pioneer of the Cubism movement never visited the Middle East, he was influenced by art from around the world and described himself as "an oriental". A curator of the exhibition "Picasso and the Arab Avant-garde" which ran from April until last month told RFI that "Through his Andalusian origins in southern Spain, Picasso also had a connection to Arabic culture."

READ: Rare Ottoman portraits found in attic auctioned in London

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