The man who ran the United Nations following the last Gulf War isn't hopeful the attack that began Wednesday night will leave Iraq a better place.

Even before the strike against Baghdad, Boutros Boutros-Ghali said any U.S.-led invasion of Iraq without specific UN authorization would violate international law.

"This intervention is illegal," he told an audience in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

He believes it also sets a dangerous example. "Other countries may use this argument in the future to intervene on the basis of this precedent."

Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary General of the United Nations from 1992 to the end of 1996, fears the diplomatic struggle, and the failure to reach a consensus in the Security Council, will weaken the UN's ability to play a central role in such future crises.

"I still hope that the UN will be able to overcome this crisis and that the UN will continue to play a role, even if this role is very marginal," he said.

The future role for the UN inside Iraq, he believes, lies with the country's reconstruction, the return of refugees and establishing a more benign regime.

But he admits the international community has a poor record of paying the necessary attention to post-war issues.