A car bomb exploded outside a popular restaurant in central Baghdad on Thursday night, killing three people and wounding 16 as diners were out enjoying the start to their weekend, police and hospital officials said.

The explosion happened around 7:10 p.m. outside the City Chef restaurant in the Karradah neighborhood. Diners were among those injured, police said.

The officials were not authorized to talk to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"I saw at least two cars burning and screaming women running out of the restaurant," said Ali Ahmed, 26, who was headed to the City Chef with a friend when they heard the blast. "Some wounded people were on the ground waiting for ambulances."

Ahmed said parts of the front of the restaurant were damaged. The City Chef opened last summer.

The attack happened just days after three car bombs were detonated across the Tigris River, outside the Green Zone, and a week after suicide bombers killed 127 and wounded more than 500 in Baghdad.

Iraqi security forces have detained dozens of people as suspects in the horrific Dec. 8 suicide bombings, officials said earlier Thursday. That announcement sought to clarify earlier remarks by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that had appeared to link security forces to the attacks.

At an hourlong news conference Wednesday, al-Maliki cited the continuing investigation of the Dec. 8 attacks. He said several security forces were involved in the probe.

He also appeared to say that some of the alleged plotters were connected to security forces, telling a news conference: "The investigation is continuing and different security bodies have played a role in revealing the involved net, which is a big one — 24 from a security body, 13 from another body and eight or nine from another one."

On Thursday, al-Maliki adviser Yassin Majid clarified the prime minister's remarks.

Majid said al-Maliki was citing the number of suspects caught by different security forces — and that the prime minister did not mean the suspects themselves were members of the various security forces.

A number of calls by The Associated Press seeking clarification Wednesday went unanswered.

The prime minister is running for re-election in March on a campaign of restoring security in Iraq, but has recently come under criticism after a series of blasts targeting government institutions in downtown Baghdad. The attacks have called into question the government's ability to protect itself and its citizens.