Syria’s Assad Looks Weaker as Currency Slides and Army Fractures

Syria’s Assad Looks Weaker as Currency Slides and Army Fractures
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks with Syrian troops during his visit to the front line in the eastern Damascus district of Jobar, Syria, Dec. 31, 2014 (AP Photo/SANA).

Last week, the value of Syria’s currency hit a record low against the dollar. On the black market in Damascus, dealers told Reuters, a dollar cost as much as 315 Syrian pounds. That wasn’t even as bad as other parts of Syria, where the currency traded for as much as 328 pounds to a dollar—a precipitous spike since the start of the year, when the rate hung around 220 pounds to the dollar. In 2011, when the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began, it was around 47 pounds.

The collapsing currency was the latest sign of the Assad regime’s growing troubles, as a string of rebel victories and rumors of internal discord exposed more weaknesses in the regime than many previously assumed. The New York Times reported on strains within the overstretched, exhausted Syrian army, which has been reduced from 250,000 to 125,000 troops by casualties and desertions. The regime has made up for that loss with an influx of irregular troops, as many 125,000 of them, according to the Times, including Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias, as well as “Iranian-trained Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghan Hazaras.”

That shift, Anne Barnard, Hwaida Saad and Eric Schmitt reported, “has accelerated the transformation of Syria’s once-centralized armed forces into something beginning to resemble that of the insurgents: a patchwork of local and foreign fighters whose interests and priorities do not always align.” It has also sparked jealousy, with Syrian soldiers complaining about their better-armed, fed and paid militiamen—especially Hezbollah, whose fighters are paid in dollars, while Syrian troops must make do with weakening pounds.

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