Second top Iraqi oil official shot dead in Kirkuk: Police

KIRKUK, Iraq (REUTERS) - Gunmen shot dead a senior official working for Iraq's North Oil Company (NOC) on Monday, police and company officials said, just over a month after his predecessor at the state-run firm was gunned down.

Chief engineer Saad Ali Hussain was driving to his office in the northern oil city of Kirkuk when gunmen in a sports utility vehicle opened fire, killing him and his driver, police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir said.

Hussain was appointed NOC's chief of operations after his predecessor was shot dead in late June as he was leaving the office.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on Hussain, who had supervised NOC's oil pipelines office.

Major oil producer and OPEC member Iraq faces security challenges from Islamic State jihadists who control a third of the country, and a sectarian conflict exacerbated by the ultra-hardline Sunni group's presence.

An NOC official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that staff at the company feared the killings would continue and suggested they were politically motivated.

"Someone is using bloody ways to change the structure of the company," he said. "It's like playing with fire and could result in dire consequences for the company's operations."