ISTANBUL -- The taxi driver winding through the narrow streets of this ancient city could speak only a few words of English. When he learned we were Americans, he used them: "Bomb Saddam!"
Through several hairpin turns, made more treacherous by his gesticulations, he imitated the motion and sound of helicopter blades and a missile being launched. "Bomb Saddam!" he repeated.
Next came the sound of a jet streaking over the skies of Baghdad and dropping a heavy payload.
Finally, as near as we could tell by his hands forming a mushroom cloud, the driver simulated a nuclear bomb and said, "Bomb Saddam!"
He was articulating as best he could the feeling of many Turks that they are ready to go to war with the United States against neighboring Iraq. There seems little fear here of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, although Turkey and Iraq share a 150-mile border.
We also picked up a gnawing notion that the Turks are less interested in teaching Saddam a moral lesson than they are in carving off a piece of Iraq for themselves -- a piece that once belonged to them.
Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was an Allah-send for this Moslem country, which is anxious to prove that it could and should be an economic ally with the Western powers. Turkish President Turgut Ozal was one of the first to endorse the strong U.S. stand against Iraq.
His response was partly fueled by the arrogance of Saddam, who tried to intimidate Ozal by sending a deputy prime minister to meet with him three days after the invasion. The emissary was packing a pistol on his hip. When that didn't work, Saddam tried to bribe Turkey by offering to repay loans of more than $750 million owed to Turkey by Iraq and to give Turkey more than $1 billion in free oil.
But Ozal couldn't be bullied or bribed. He shut down two pipelines that once carried more than half of Iraq's oil across Turkey to the Mediterranean. Then he sent 100,000 of his toughest soldiers to the border region with Iraq, forcing Saddam to keep nine army divisions lined up against the Turks when he needs those divisions badly along his southern border with Saudi Arabia.
Ozal also let the United States keep F-111 warplanes bristling with nuclear weapons at a base in southern Turkey within striking distance of Baghdad.
He does this not out of charity but out of hope that the reward will be big. There is serious talk in Turkey that it might end up with an oil-rich part of Iraq as a result of being on the right side of a war.
Right-wing newspapers in Turkey are openly campaigning for the return of the Mosul and Kirkuk provinces of Iraq south of Turkey. They were part of Turkey before the huge Ottoman Empire was broken up in the 1920s.
Middle East intelligence sources say a Turkish annexation of northern Iraq would probably occur under the guise of quieting Kurds in the region. Those Kurds would likely try for an independent state if Saddam were weakened or removed.
No one has promised Turkey a piece of Iraq should any carving up be done. But the United States has forcefully taken up Turkey's case to join the Economic Community as a partial reward. And other nations have promised economic compensation for Turkey's adherence to the Iraq trade embargo.